Tag Archives: Kochi Mayor Tony Chammany

“Callgate” / “Kerala Solar Scam”: Part 2 – The Arrests


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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Kerala Legislative Assembly, Thiruvananthapuram. (Photo: C. Ratheesh Kumar)
Kerala Legislative Assembly, Thiruvananthapuram. (Photo: C. Ratheesh Kumar)

This year the public came to know about the Kerala Solar Scam perpetrated by Saritha Nair and her live-in-scam-partner Biju Radhakishnan who duped many people by falsely promising solar panels and equities in non-existent solar and wind farms.

In early June 2013, one of the investors K.M. Sajjad, an industrialist from Kollam, who had paid an advance of र40 lakh for setting up a solar and windmill farm filed a case against Team Solar. Later, the police said, the letter typed on the letterhead of the Chief Minister with the CM’s signature and shown to Sajad was a forgery. Sajjad said that he got in touch with Team Solar after seeing a Team Solar advertisement in the newspapers and ended up parting with र40 lakh for a solar power plant and windmills in Tamil Nadu.

Many cases for cheating and criminal breach of trust have been registered against the duo. Up to end of July 2013, police stations across the state registered 33 cases against Saritha Nair and Biju Radhakrishnan.

As on July 2013, six cases were registered against Team Solar in the city of Kochi – five cases in Town North station and one case in Town South police station. On July 16, 2013, Sarita Nair and Biju Radhakrishnan, were remanded to police custody for four days by the Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate (Economic Offences) Court and directed the Special Investigation Team (SIT) to investigate the six cases. According to SIT, Sarita and Biju had been operating out of their office on Chittoor Road from 2010 onwards under the names of West Wind Corporates and Team Solar Renewable Energy Solutions.

Reginald George filed a case in the Town North Police station that said he was cheated of र95.86 lakh by Team Solar for a part of a windmill project in Idukki.

The Town North Police has also registered a case against Abhilash Nair and Santhosh of Team Solar, on the basis of a complaint lodged by V.P. Joy of Muvattupuzha for allegedly cheating him of र1.60 lakh as he was promised a part of a windmill project in Idukki.

A jewellery showroom at Padivattom which has shops around the world, accused Team Solar of cheating them of र23.5 lakh on the pretext of setting up solar panels at
their showroom.

In the Malabar region several medical practitioners fell into their trap. About 11 petitions were filed against Biju Radhakishnan in the District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum, Ernakulam, of which, ten petitioners were doctors.

On September 10, 2013, confident of his protectors in the government, Salim Raj, former bodyguard of  Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, attempted to abduct a couple in broad daylight on a highway. Seeing the commotion, a lot of local people gathered around them. Though Salim Raj threatened them by flashing his police ID card, the angry locals did not give in and refused to let him and his goons leave until the police came and took them into custody.

Saritha Nair was arrested on June 3, 2013. (Express photo)
Saritha Nair was arrested on June 3, 2013. (Photo: Deshabhimani)

On June 5, 2013, Sarita Nair was arrested by the Perumbavoor police from a house in Edappazhanji, Thiruvananthapuram, where she was hiding. Sarita told the police that she had no contact for the past one year with the  absconding Biju Radhakishnan.

Biju Radhakishnan was arrested in Coimbatore June 17, 2013, for the murder of his wife Reshmi. (Express file photo)
Biju Radhakishnan was arrested in Coimbatore June 17, 2013, for the murder of his wife Reshmi. (Express file photo)

On June 17, 2013, Biju Radhakishnan was arrested in Coimbatore for the murder of his wife Reshmi on February 4, 2006 at his Kottarakkara house. Biju told the police that he was advised by a lawyer in Ernakulam to leave the state and stay underground until he fetched an anticipatory bail for him in the solar panel scam. He said it was the same lawyer who also advised him to speak to the news channels and reveal the role played by Chief Minister’s staff. However, the  lawyer cheated him he said.

When the police nabbed Biju in Coimbatore he had only र20 in his purse. One of the policemen said:

The conman who duped several to the tune of crores of rupees did not even have money to pay his taxi bill. He had told the driver that he would pay him after selling his laptop.”

On October 9, 2013, Biju Radhakrishnan told the Judicial First Class Magistrate court in Thiruvananthapuram that he was ready to reveal the names of the top political leaders involved in the scam.

Kerala reeled under the scam. The media dubbed the scam “Callgate” and “Kerala Solar Scam“. The duo had used cine starlets for sex and blackmail.

The scandal created havoc in the ruling Congress party. The amounts involved in each case varied from a few lakhs to a few crores with the total, calculated by complaints, amounted to less than र10 crore (US$1.6 million) – a meagre amount when compared to other scams perpetrated by others in India. However, the aggressive protests by Leftist political parties made the scam notorious.

Oommen Chandy, Chief Minister of Kerala.
Oommen Chandy, Chief Minister of Kerala.

Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy’s “Mr. Clean” image was muddied, and brought his government to its knees. The Opposition parties demanded his resignation.

Salim Raj, Tenny Joppan and Jikumon Jacob were members of Chief Minister Oommen Chandy’s personal staff and his closest confidants for eight years and had links
with Saritha Nair and Biju Radhakishnan, the accused in the multi-crore solar scam. However, only Tenny Joppan was arrested.

Media reports said that Salim Raj, the former bodyguard of the Chief Minister, had made a number of calls to the accused in the Solar scam. However, the Special Investigation Team which probes the solar scam exonerated him.

Salim Raj outside a court in Kozhikode (Source: indiatoday.intoday.in)
Salim Raj outside a court in Kozhikode (Source: indiatoday.intoday.in)

On September 10, 2013, confident of his protectors in the government, Salim Raj attempted to abduct a couple in broad daylight on a highway. Seeing the commotion, a lot of local people gathered around them. Though Salim Raj threatened them by flashing his police ID card, the angry locals did not give in and refused to let Salim Raj and his goons leave until the police came and took them into custody.

Jikkumon Jacob,  a personal staff of Kerala CM Oommen Chandy.
Jikkumon Jacob, a personal staff of Kerala CM Oommen Chandy.

Jikkumon Jacob, assistant PA to CM’s personal assistant P. Sivadasan and member of chief minister’s personal staff, resigned on his own from the post following allegations of his involvement with Saritha Nair and Biju Radhakishna, the main accused in the solar panel case. The special investigation team led by ADGP quizzed Jikkumon since his mobile number appears in the call lists of those who had Telephoned Saritha Nair.

However, no action was taken against Jikkumon.

Tenny Joppan, a long-time aide and former personal staff member of Chief Minister Oommen Chandy was arrested on June28, 2013.
Tenny Joppan, a long-time aide and former personal staff member of Chief Minister Oommen Chandy was arrested on June28, 2013.

On June 28, 2013, Tenny Joppan, a long-time aide and former personal staff member of Chief Minister Oommen Chandy was removed from the CM’s office following the controversies. He was arrested after a three-hours interrogation at Chengannur DYSP office, when the CM had gone to Bahrain to receive a UN award for his mass contact programmes.  He was charged under Section 420 of IPC (cheating) and Sec 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance) and listed as the third accused in the Solar scam case, along with Saritha Nair and Biju Radhakrishnan.

M.G. Joppan, father of Tenny said the real culprits in the case are outside the bars. He said:

Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan’s police came to arrest Tenny when Chief Minister Oommen Chandy was out of station. Tenny was made a scapegoat. There has been a conspiracy behind this. Many people including Salim Raj and Jikku are safe outside. Tenny hasn’t earned anything illegally.”

On August 23, 2013, Kerala High Court granted bail to Joppen.

A. Firoze, former director of Kerala's Information and Public Relations department.
A. Firoze, former director of Kerala’s Information and Public Relations department.

On July 18, 2013, A. Firoze, suspended Director of the  Information and Public Relations Department, surrendered at the Medical College Police station after the Kerala High Court rejected his plea for anticipatory bail. He was accused of defrauding a Thiruvananthapuram builder of र40 lakh promising to arrange an Asian Development Bank loan for setting up a solar facility. Firoze had reportedly introduced Biju Radhakrishnan and Saritha Nair to the builder saying one of them was a offical of ADB.

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← Previous:  Part 1 – Team Solar

Next → Part 3 – Murder, Movie Stars, Intrigue, and the Movie

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“Callgate” / “Kerala Solar Scam”: Part 1 – Team Solar


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj

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Three year ago when the Kerala State was reeling under a severe power crisis, the Kerala government came up with several schemes for generation of power from solar and wind energy.

Saritha S. Nair (Photo: Indiavision)
Saritha S. Nair (Photo: Indiavision)

Sensing the ambience was just about right for investment in these sectors, Saritha S. Nair and live-in-partner Biju Radhakishnan, now under arrest on charges varying from cheating people of crores of rupees to murder, floated the now defunct company The Team Solar Energy Company (Team Solar). When it was in business, Team Solar advertised itself as “one of the world’s largest renewable energy groups,” and had an impressive clientele. They placed advertisements in the media offering a gamut of services such as setting up solar panels and windmills at cheap rates, obtaining government subsidies, and making it easy for the absorption of generated
power to the state power grid.

Zonal office of Team Solar on Chittoor Road in Kochi (Photo: H. Vibhu)
Zonal office of Team Solar on Chittoor Road in Kochi (Photo: H. Vibhu)

Saritha Nair and Biju Radhakishnan had been charged earlier in various cheating cases and were out on bail. In 2009, Saritha Nair was arrested for cheating a resident of Kakkanad of र1.60 lakh after promising to install a windmill plant. This was besides other cases that had been registered against them elsewhere

Interestingly, even though the duo was out on bail, Saritha got in touch with senior police officials over the phone for new assignments. In 2012, Team Solar was assigned to set up solar power equipment at the top-level offices of the City Police – office of the City Police Commissioner, senior police officials, the Police Club – and at the offices of ministers.

Team Solar provided guided tours for prospective entrepreneurs and took them to government lands at various places claiming that they were the spots where their solar or wind energy units would be set up. They even showed some people windmills in Tamil Nadu which they claimed as Team Solar projects.

The investors were asked to sign Memorandum of understanding (MOU), part with their money, and then sit back and enjoy the returns of their investment. Team Solar also inveigled investors by offering to make them business partners.

An undisclosed source inside Team Solar said that even though Team Solar had its hands full of orders, only those of celebrity clients were taken up.

Team Solar assuaged any doubting Thomas by using the stock phrase:

“If you are not convinced, here is the CM’s PA Tenny Joppan on the line, please speak to him.”

If Joppan was unavailable, they would call the Chief Minister Oommen Chandy’s security officer Salim Raj, or Jikkumon Jacob, a member of chief minister’s personal staff. The fact that the Chief Minister of Kerala did not own a mobile phone went in favour of the scammers because anyone who wanted to contact the Chief Minister, including MLAs, had to call his personal aides who in turn put them through to him. Later on, the media revealed that Saritha Nair made hundreds of calls every week from her cell phones to these gentlemen in office, and received many calls from the Chief Minister’s landline.

Salim Raj, former Security Officer of Kerala CM Oommen Chandy
Salim Raj, former Security Officer of Kerala CM Oommen Chandy

Salim Raj, 42, was an ordinary constable in the Kerala Police and a former bodyguard of Chief Minister Oommen Chandy. Salim wielded so much power that on October 1, 2013, Justice Harul-ul-Rashid of Kerala High Court, while hearing petitions seeking a CBI inquiry into a land grab case against Salim Raj, remarked:

“Is Kerala’s administration functioning only to serve the mafia? Does this mere police constable think he is the chief minister? Why should people be so afraid of him? Is even the state DGP scared of this policeman? What kind of democracy is this?”

The judge’s remark came in the wake of complaints from many members of the public, the Opposition, and even repeated comments by the courts about the United Democratic Front (UDF) government’s unstinted support for Salim Raj, whenever he landed in trouble. Justice Rashid was particularly disturbed by the state DGP K.S. Balasubramanian, who on receiving an alleged land grabbing complaint against Salim Raj forwarded it to the Chief Minister instead of taking action himself.

Due to Salim Raj’s clout with the government his name was not included in the FIR registered by the police on a land grab case in Kochi in spite of the petitions asserted that he was the main culprit.

Salim Raj has also been accused of having played a role in the solar scam in addition to other charges related to land grab, fabrication of records, abduction, among others.

Salim Raj who belongs to Chief Minister Oommen Chandy’s home district Kottayam has been the CM’s official bodyguard since 2005 when he was an Opposition leader. In 2009, Chandy inducted Salim Raj into the Chief Minister’s security detail, ignoring adverse intelligence reports about him.

Sridharan Nair (Pic: Indiavision)
Sridharan Nair (Pic: Indiavision)

When Sreedharan Nair, a victim of the scam, wanted further assurance about the project to manufacture solar panels, he was asked to sign an MOU with a commitment of र5.5 crore. He then had to pay र25 lakh out of the first instalment of र40 lakh before being taken to the Chief Minister’s office, where Tenny Joppan gave an assurance for the investment in the solar panel plant to be installed at Kanjikode in Palakkad district. An agreement in this regard was signed at Joppan’s cabin at the Chief Minister’s office. Sreedharan Nair had asserted that he had even met the chief minister, accompanied by Saritha Nair.

To gain media coverage and credibility the Global Management of Team Solar instituted awards that carried prize money. On June 11, 2011, at a function held at Hotel Dreams, Ernakulam, six prominent people of Kerala were proffered the ‘Virgin Earth Golden Feather Environment Awards 2011‘ and ‘Green Golden Feather Environment Puraskar‘ award for their work in the field of environmental protection.

Prof. Dr. S. Sitaraman, renowned environmental activist and Secretary of Association of Environmental Protection was presented the 'Green Golden Feather Environment Puraskar' by K. P. Mohanan, Minister for Agriculture in presense of company officials and Hybi Edan, MLA, Ernakulam.
Prof. Dr. S. Sitaraman, renowned environmental activist and Secretary of Association of Environmental Protection was presented the ‘Green Golden Feather Environment Puraskar’ by K. P. Mohanan, Minister for Agriculture in presense of company officials and Hybi Edan, MLA, Ernakulam.

Prof. Dr. S. Sitaraman, renowned environmental activist and Secretary of Association of Environmental Protection and president of Kerala Brahmana Sabha, Aluva Upasabha, Fr. Johnson J. Palakkappillil, principal, Sacred Heart College and Dr. Georgekutty Karianappalli, CEO, Lifeway Solar were awarded the ‘Green Golden Feather Environment Puraskar‘.

 Malayalam film star Mammooty is among six persons chosen for the ‘Virgin Earth Golden Feather Environment Awards 2011′ and ‘Green Golden Feather Environment Puraskar’ award for their work in the field of environmental protection.
Malayalam film star Mammooty is among six persons chosen for the ‘Virgin Earth Golden Feather Environment Awards 2011′ and ‘Green Golden Feather Environment Puraskar’ award for their work in the field of environmental protection.

Malayalam cine star Mammootty, Kochi Mayor Tony Chammany, and K. K. Krishnadas, CEO of Vallarpadam Transhipment Terminal-DP World, were among the six beneficiaries of the ‘Virgin Earth Golden Feather Environment Award‘.

K.P. Mohanan, Minister for Agriculture, and Hybi Edan, MLA, Ernakulam attended the function.

Mayor Chammany told reporters that Saritha under the name Lakshmi Nair had approached him and told him about their award. He said he had met Biju Radhakrishnan at the award function and was introduced to him as Dr. R.B. Nair. He further said:

Kochi Mayor Tony Chammany“I was told that the award, as part of their World Environment Day celebration, was for the council’s decision to adopt energy efficient lighting practices. As many other eminent people were also receiving the award, I did not see anything wrong in accepting it. It is only now that I found out about her name and the scam. … But she has not received any help or support from me.”

Even though there were some complaints about Team Solar, no action was taken against them. A senior police official said:

The problem was that no one came forward to lodge a formal complaint, as they used to concentrate on people with unaccounted money. A majority of the victims chose not to proceed with the case and were happy if they got the money back.

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Next → Part 2 – The Arrests

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