Kerala HC allows CBI probe in LIFE Mission scam, says no criminal liability on CM

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On Tuesday, the Kerala High Court granted permission to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to continue probe in the LIFE Mission scam case and vacated the stay order on the probe.

However, in a relief to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and the CPI(M), the court noted ‘it is not permissible to extend criminal liability on the political executive merely because they have taken a policy decision and proactive steps in the project implementation’.

The Court also dismissed the petitions filed by Kochi-based corporate group Unitac’s CEO Santhosh Eappen, seeking quashing of CBI FIR against LIFE Mission on FCRA irregularities.

LIFE Missions’ Counsel KV Vishwanathan had sought a quashing order on the investigation against the LIFE Mission Program.

The CBI had filed an FIR in a court under Section 120 B of the IPC and Section 35 of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010 on a complaint by Congress MLA Anil Akkara. The FIR names Santosh Eappen, Managing Director of Unitac Builder, as the first accused and Sane Ventures as the second accused. Unitac was given the LIFE Mission contract to build housing complexes and a health centre in Wadakkanchery. 

Anil Akkara is the MLA of Wadakkanchery and his complaint states that Unitac had paid Rs 3 crore and 80 lakhs to Swapna Suresh – accused in the Kerala Gold Smuggling case – and others in the UAE Consulate for giving them the project and acting as liaisons. The company also gave five iPhones to Swapna, as per her demand. The CBI’s case is that Swapna took the money at the behest of M Sivasankar, an IAS officer who was Principal Secretary to Pinarayi Vijayam.

Following the CBI case, the Life Mission CEO and Santosh Eappen had moved separate pleas in the High Court submitting that the agency’s FIR was ‘illegal, arbitrary and nothing but an abuse of the process of law and is, therefore, liable to be quashed.” Santosh Eappen also contested that the CBI cannot investigate cases without permission from the state government.

The court however dismissed his plea against a CBI probe and said that there was a prima facie case to be investigated by the CBI. The court pointed out that after the initial MoU, there was no further agreement between the UAE Red Crescent and Kerala state government.

“On the other hand, two other independent bodies – Unitac Builders and Developers and Sane Ventures LLP were inducted into the foreign contribution by allowing them to enter into separate agreements with UAE Consulate General, Trivandrum, Kerala and hence it satisfies a prima facie case to be investigated by the CBI,” Justice P Somarajan said.

The court observed that the facts of the case reveals a “high profile intellectual fraud played in furtherance of MoU so as to avoid audit by CAG and to get kickbacks and gratifications.”. \

“The very nature of the mischief done in furtherance of MoU would suggest involvement of highly educated professionals – a mastermind behind it,” the court observed.

Placing the blame on bureaucrats, the court said that it is the non-political executive who has to apply ‘checks and balances’ while implementing the policy.  

It said that the failure of IAS officers to address any issue or any mischief by them does not mean that there is any criminal liability against the political executive (the Chief Minister, Ministers and the legislature). Such a criminal liability extends to the political executive only if the mischief or issue is brought to their notice, says the judge.

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