ED officer’s arrest in bribery scandal ignites political controversy in Tamil Nadu

Arrest raises questions about agency’s conduct and intensifies tensions between State and the Centre.

Published : Dec 03, 2023 21:16 IST - 5 MINS READ

DVAC officials search the office of Enforcement Directorate in Madurai on December 1, 2023.

DVAC officials search the office of Enforcement Directorate in Madurai on December 1, 2023. | Photo Credit: MOORTHY G

The arrest of an officer of the Union government’s Enforcement Directorate (ED) by the Tamil Nadu State police’s Anti-Corruption wing on December 1 on charges of extortion and bribery has ignited a political firestorm across the country, especially on social media platforms. The BJP and right-wing factions have labelled the arrest as an act of vengeance by the DMK government against a central investigation agency, citing the recent arrest of a minister in a cash-for-job scam and the ongoing investigation against another for illegal red sand mining licences.

The controversy erupted when the Dindigul district Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-corruption (DVAC) caught 40-year-old Ankit Tiwari, an officer of the Sub-Zonal ED office in Madurai, red-handed. He was receiving a bribe of Rs. 20 lakh from a government doctor in Dindigul, around 60 kilometres from Madurai, in connection with a case. This was the first installment of a total bribe amount of Rs. 51 lakh. The doctor, along with his wife (also a physician), runs a hospital in Dindigul.

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Following Tiwari’s arrest, the ED office in Madurai was subjected to a 10-hour search. A small team of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) initially resisted the search but eventually relented. The searches reportedly yielded some incriminating documents and Tiwari’s laptop was seized. Meanwhile, after news of the raid spread, a heavily armed paramilitary unit was deployed to the ED office located at Shastri Bhavan in Chennai.

A press release issued by the state police’s headquarters in Chennai after the arrest stated, “On October 29, 2023, Tiwari contacted a government employee from Dindigul and mentioned a case registered against him in the Dindigul Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Department, which was already disposed of.” However, the DVAC did not reveal the nature of the case against the doctor. Tiwari allegedly promised to “close the file” in exchange for the Rs. 51 lakh bribe, lowering his initial demand of Rs. 3 crore.

The press release further claimed that Tiwari was threatening and extorting money from several people under the pretext of “closing their cases.” He also allegedly informed the doctor that the ED had received instructions from the Prime Minister’s Office to pursue his case. Tiwari called the doctor on WhatsApp and instructed him to appear before the ED office in Madurai on October 30. On November 1, he demanded Rs. 3 crore as a bribe to “clear” the doctor’s case. After negotiations, he allegedly lowered his demand to Rs. 51 lakh on “instructions from his superiors.”

After the doctor paid the first installment of Rs. 20 lakh, Tiwari began demanding the remaining sum. The doctor, growing suspicious of his persistent demands, alerted the DVAC. A trap was laid, and when the doctor handed over the second installment of Rs. 20 lakh on December 1, Tiwari was caught red-handed. A senior DVAC officer told Frontline that Tiwari “fell into a trap like a rat”. The chemically-coated denomination notes and the dashboard camera recording from the doctor’s car provided incriminating evidence. Tiwari was arrested under the Prevention of Corruption Act and remanded to judicial custody for 15 days. The DVAC has indicated that the scope of the investigation might be further expanded to determine the involvement of any other ED officials.

Political impacts of the arrest

The DVAC raid on the ED office has created a political uproar. This incident coincides with ongoing tensions between the DMK and the BJP, with the DMK accusing the central agency of engaging in “BJP’s politically motivated retribution” through its heightened activities in Tamil Nadu. Various opposition parties, including the DMK, have accused the Union government of abusing central agencies to intimidate political adversaries and gain an advantage.

In response, the BJP accused the DMK government of retaliating against the ED for arresting DMK Minister V Senthil Balaji in an alleged cash-for-jobs scam several months ago. The minister remains imprisoned. The agency also investigated Higher Education Minister K Ponmudi, raiding his house in Villupuram. More recently, the ED raided sand quarries in the State, citing illegal mining and irregularities in sand sales. It subsequently issued summons to 10 district collectors overseeing the mining operations. However, the State government and the collectors successfully petitioned the Madras High Court, which stayed the summons.

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Some argue that the State police cannot legally take action against a central agency like the ED within the State. However, since law and order is a State subject, the law says that “With the State Government revoking General Consent to CBI under Sec 6 of DSPE Act, State Police has sole jurisdiction over Central Government employees too in its territory under Prevention of Corruption Act.” This argument references the recent state decision to revoke the General Consent granted to the CBI.

As expected, the BJP and right-wingers have come forward to support the ED. State president K Annamalai told the media in Thoothukudi that the incident was an individual’s fault and should not be seen as a reflection on the agency itself. Annamalai further stated that “If the officer is found guilty of misconduct, he should face appropriate legal action.” On the other hand, Congress MP of Virudhunagar, B. Manickam Tagore, criticised the ED on X (formerly Twitter), calling it “Extortion Directorate.”

Meanwhile, the ED had given a petition to the Tamil Nadu DGP Shankar Jiwal saying that the searches at its office by the DV AC were malafide. Many sensitive materials kept in the office were tampered with and missing.

It is important to note that this is not the first time an ED official has been arrested by State police. In November, Rajasthan’s Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) arrested two ED officials from Manipur in Jaipur on bribery charges in connection with a chit fund case.

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