Former PWD minister and IUML leader VK Ebrahim Kunju, who was arrested in connection with the Palarivattom flyover scam case, has been remanded for 14 days. The Muvattupuzha Vigilance Court judge came to the Lakeshore Hospital where he was undergoing treatment and remanded him. Ebrahim Kunju will remain at the hospital due to health reasons.
The petition filed by Vigilance Department seeking Ebrahim Kunju’s custody and the former minister’s petition seeking bail will be considered by the vigilance court today.
The Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau team that is probing the Palarivattom flyover scam had arrived at Ebrahim's residence at Aluva early yesterday to take him into custody after questioning him. They were then planning to register his arrest and then produce him at the Moovattupuzha Sessions Court.
Although his wife told the team that he is not at home and that he was at the Lakeshore Hospital in Ernakulam undergoing treatment, the vigilance along with local police inspected his residence. The team comprising of women police officers entered the house. Ebrahim Kunju, who was actively campaigning till yesterday morning, was admitted to the Lakeshore Hospital last evening. Though the arrest has been registered, Kunju might remain in hospital for tonight.
Ebrahim Kunju was the PWD minister under the United Democratic Front-led government from 2011 to 2016. It was during his tenure that the Palarivattom flyover was built. The 442-m-long Palarivattom flyover was opened for vehicles in 2016. A year after its inauguration, cracks began appearing in the structure so much so that the flyover is currently being reconstructed. A Vigilance probe was launched against the contractors and Ebrahim Kunju. The Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau have registered corruption cases against him. In fact, the Vigilance had conducted a raid and interrogated him in connection with the case in September 2019. He is the fifth accused in the case.
The Enforcement Directorate is also currently investigating the Indian Union of Muslim League leader in an alleged money laundering case. Ebrahim Kunju who is currently an MLA from the Kalamassery constituency is said to have deposited Rs 10 crore through two banks in Kochi after the demonetisation was announced. The Kerala High Court ordered the ED to carry out a probe based on a complaint filed by Girish Babu, a Kalamassery native. It is alleged that the amount deposited was given as commission by a construction company which was awarded the work of the controversial flyover.
Former Public Works Secretary TO Sooraj, former Kitco MD Sumit Goyal and RBDCK company GM PD Thankachan were arrested in connection with the case. Sooraj, the fourth accused in the case had raised charges against Ebrahim Kunju at the Vigilance court last year.
Ebrahim Kunju's arrest today could have political repercussions in the run-up to the local body elections in December as the arrest could give the ruling LDF, which has been on the defensive over issues such as the Life Mission scam, Bineesh Kodiyeri’s arrest, and the Thiruvananthapuram gold smuggling case, a leverage.
Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Ramesh Chennithala said that the people of the state will understand the political vendetta being carried out by the government using vigilance. The move to weaken UDF will be dealt with and this is to divert attention from the gold smuggling case, he said.
The IUML has called for an emergency meeting in the wake of his arrest. Responding to his colleague's arrest, IUML leader PK Kunjalikutty remarked it as unwarranted. According to Kunjalikutty, the arrest is based on a prepared list as stated by the LDF convener.
Senior Indian Union Muslim League member and Manjeswaram MLA, MC Kamarudheen was arrested in connection with cases registered against him in a multi-crore investment case earlier this month, while the Vigilance Court ordered a probe against IUML MLA KM Shaji based on a complaint by social worker and advocate MR Harish, who claimed that Shaji had amassed assets disproportionate to his known sources of income
“This is a drama to balance the government’s controversies and issues. This is a sheer misuse of power. If he had to be arrested, he should have been arrested when the case first popped up,” said Kunjalikutty.
Congress veteran and former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy defended the former PWD minister and said that the current government was using Ebrahim Kunju as a scapegoat. He questioned the government for not blacklisting the company that built the flyover. Chandy, under whose tenure the construction of the flyover started said that while 70 per cent of the bridge was done by the UDF, the rest was completed by the LDF. The LDF government presented the bridge as their achievement during the inauguration.
“‘This government did the work including the tarring of the bridge. The complaint against Ebrahim Kunju is that he gave the mobilisation advance. The government has got the full amount including the interest of it. If lapse was found on the side of the company, then why did this government hand over the construction charge to the same company again?” asked Chandy.
He added, “This case will be a setback for the government. The people have doubts. This government has also given mobilisation advance. If corruption has led to the demolition of the bridge, then the government should clarify why the company was not blacklisted. The opposition cannot be silenced; the people will examine everything.”