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The drama that unfolded on June 14 in Chennai involving Tamil Nadu minister Senthil Balaji is continuing with chief minister M K Stalin strongly defending Balaji and criticizing the Union government. Senthil Balaji was minister for prohibition and excise as well as electricity. His portfolios have been allocated to others since the Enforcement Directorate arrested him and the court has refused to release him. On June 14, Senthil Balaji complained of chest pain when the enforcement directorate officials arrested him at the end of a long interrogation.

Meanwhile, Arappor Iyakkam convenor Jayaram Venkatesan spoke to about the facts of the case. He said that Senthil Balaji was served three chargesheets by the crime branch of Tamil Nadu police for a 2014-15 case against him when he was transport minister in the AIADMK regime. Balaji, through his personal assistant Shanmugam, had allegedly taken bribes for giving driver-conductor jobs in the state transport department. Apparently, some of the bribe-givers were given jobs while some weren’t but the money wasn’t returned to those who didn’t get the jobs.

Getting into the act, the ED wanted to find the money trail of the bribes that were taken. The ED probes money laundering and investigates how ill-gotten money is laundered as legal cash in the system. The ED contended that Senthil Balaji, using his ministerial position, will hamper the investigation and arrested him. Jayaram Venkatesan said the ED was correct in its contention and the arrest was justified.

“The ED was correct in its contention that Senthil Balaji may lose his position as minister to hamper investigation. So the arrest was justified”

Venkatesan said the scenes of Senthil Balaji’s chest pain and hospitalization looked as if they were from a film. On humanitarian grounds and as per medical advice, however, he should certainly be given medical treatment, he said and added that it appears that after treatment he will be lodged in jail.

But Jayaram Venkatesan pointed out that just lodging the minister in jail during investigation is not enough. The case should be pursued vigorously and the guilty should be punished, he said. Senthil Balaji’s dodgy reputation makes us wonder if justice will be served, he added.

The right thing for Stalin should have been to remove Senthil Balaji from the ministry altogether until he was proven innocent, he said.

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Coming out strongly in support of the minister sends wrong signals, he added, adding that not long ago, Stalin had demanded the removal of Senthil Balaji from the AIADMK ministry when corruption allegations were made against him, Venkatesan pointed out. Stalin had in fact said that if DMK would come to power it would take strong action against Senthil Balaji. But after he switched sides and when DMK came to power, he was given three key portfolios.

The ED, which is controlled by the Union government, has jumped into the picture perhaps because of political reasons, he said. Senthil Balaji is a key player in western Tamil Nadu where the BJP seeks to make a mark. Yet, the serious corruption charges against Senthil Balaji are undeniably strong, said Jayaram Venkatesan.

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