A tea vendor working at the Meenambakkam airport in Chennai has landed in money laundering net after a PMLA court recently froze his assets, which include large cash deposits and 2.5 kg of gold jewellery, in connection with a bribery case.
The case dates back to 2009 when CBI conducted searches on the export and import cargo office of the Chennai airport on alleged charges of corruption in the operations of the unit involving officials of the customs department and others.
The agency, during this operation, searched the premises of G Kumar and seized over Rs. 2.32 lakh and over 180 pieces of various gold ornaments. Cash of more than Rs. 3 lakh was also found in his three bank accounts in the city.
The CBI later arrested Kumar, a class V dropout, and handed over the case to Enforcement Directorate (ED) for probe under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).
The ED's probe threw up an interesting modus operandi about how Kumar, who used to work in tea shops since childhood, allegedly connived with airport and Customs officials and clobbered up illegal wealth and gold ornaments.
The probe agencies found out that Kumar who used to "distribute tea and other food items" to officials at the Meenambakkam airport terminal since 1987 had a duty pass to enter the high-security area and had become a good friend of the officials posted there over a period of time. According to the charge sheet filed in this case by the probe agencies, it all began in 2000 when the officials allegedly asked Kumar to "get money and goods from clearing and forwarding agents" on behalf of them and promised to share a part of the booty.
Kumar, who the agencies said "was in good books" of the officials, was tasked to collect all these kickbacks in order to evade anti-corruption agencies.
However, CBI came calling in 2009 once it was tipped off about these illegal dealings at the airport.
Kumar, who also owns a house, recorded his statement with the ED stating he purchased huge number of gold jewellery from the booty he got as it was "risky to retain cash." Kumar also started filing Income Tax returns posing as proprietor of a firm in order to show the bribe money as "legitimately earned" and to dodge the investigators.
The ED, after finishing its probe, attached these movable assets in September last year.
The adjudicating authority of the PMLA in Delhi, under its member and officiating judge Mukesh Kumar recently issued orders terming these assets as "proceeds of crime" and involved in money laundering.