Madras HC denies bail to ex-TN minister Senthil Balaji in money laundering case | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

Madras HC denies bail to ex-TN minister Senthil Balaji in money laundering case

Feb 28, 2024 06:30 PM IST

The Madras high court observed that there is strong material which prima facie establishes the money laundering offence against former Tami Nadu minister Senthi Balaji

The Madras high court on Wednesday dismissed the bail plea of former Tamil Nadu minister Senthil Balaji in a money laundering case citing his influence and observing that there is strong material which prima facie establishes the offence against him.

Former Tamil Nadu minister Senthil Balaji. (File)
Former Tamil Nadu minister Senthil Balaji. (File)

“The petitioner has not made out a case by satisfying this court that there are reasonable grounds for believing that he is not guilty,” justice Anand Venkatesh said.

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The judge did not agree with the submission that since Balaji has resigned from his position as a minister there need not be an apprehension that he will tamper with the evidence and influence the witnesses.

This is Balaji’s second bail petition to be rejected. His first bail petition was dismissed last September by a Chennai sessions court. Balaji sent in his resignation on February 12 and chief minister M K Stalin forwarded it to the Raj Bhavan that night. The governor approved it on February 13 while the high court was set to hear his bail plea on February 14.

“The petitioner resigned from the post of minister without a portfolio just one day prior to the hearing of this bail petition,” justice Venkatesh said. “The fact that the petitioner continued to hold the position as a minister for nearly eight months and that too without a portfolio when he was inside the jail, shows the tremendous influence of the petitioner and the importance that is given to him by the State Government. Even if the petitioner had resigned from his position as a minister, he continues as an MLA belonging to the same party which is running the Government in the State of Tamil Nadu and therefore, without any hesitation, this court holds that the petitioner continues to wield a lot of influence on the Government.”

ED arrested Balaji on June 14, 2023 under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, (PMLA) 2002 in a case dating back to 2014 when he was transport minister under the AIADMK government. The charge is about taking cash from job aspirants in exchange for appointments to various positions in the state Metropolitan Transport Corporation (MTC) for the recruitment process to be manipulated under Balaji. “This past conduct also has a lot of bearing in this case,” the court said.

According to ED, 67.74 crores is the proceeds in the crime. “When such is the position, the witnesses who are mostly the officials belonging to the MTC and the prospective job seekers who had paid the money, will be influenced/tampered with,” the court said.

This court is also taking into consideration the larger interest of the Public/State since the petitioner was involved in a cash for job scam by misusing his position as a transport minister and thereby, genuine aspirants for the job were deprived of level playing field and, in their place, persons who paid money were accommodated,” the judge said, adding, “If the petitioner is let out on bail in a case of this nature, it will send a wrong signal and it will be against larger public interest.”

In the previous hearing, Balaji alleged that ED had tampered with digital evidence which the federal agency had denied. On Wednesday, the court said that Balaji’s charge that a pen drive (an evidence) was manipulated by increasing 284 files to 472 files is “unsubstantiated”.

Justice Venkatesh directed for the trial to be “conducted on a day-to-day basis in accordance with the guidelines given by” the Supreme Court in the Vinod Kumar vs State of Punjab case in 2015. Since he “has suffered incarceration for more than eight months”, the court ordered for his case to be disposed of within three months.

Since his arrest, he has been hospitalised for chest pains and subsequently underwent heart surgery at a private hospital. He was discharged on July 17 and has since been jailed in the Puzhal central prison. Chief minister Stalin reallocated his portfolios (electricity, excise and prohibition) citing his ill health and not his arrest.

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    Divya Chandrababu is an award-winning political and human rights journalist based in Chennai, India. Divya is presently Assistant Editor of the Hindustan Times where she covers Tamil Nadu & Puducherry. She started her career as a broadcast journalist at NDTV-Hindu where she anchored and wrote prime time news bulletins. Later, she covered politics, development, mental health, child and disability rights for The Times of India. Divya has been a journalism fellow for several programs including the Asia Journalism Fellowship at Singapore and the KAS Media Asia- The Caravan for narrative journalism. Divya has a master's in politics and international studies from the University of Warwick, UK. As an independent journalist Divya has written for Indian and foreign publications on domestic and international affairs.

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