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ED Arrests TN Minister Senthil Balaji Under Anti-Money Laundering Act; DMK-Led Coalition Lashes out at BJP

The chief minister charged the ED officials of "enacting a drama" in the name of enquiry and accused them of "physically and mentally troubling" Balaji.
Senthil Balaji

Senthil Balaji. Image Courtesy: Twitter/@vsenthilbalaji

Chennai: The Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Wednesday arrested Tamil Nadu Electricity, Prohibition and Excise Minister V Senthil Balaji under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), official sources said, making him the first member in the M K Stalin-led Cabinet to face such an action from a central probe agency.

Balaji was arrested after a long session of questioning, they said, even as the 47-year-old minister was admitted to a city government hospital after he complained of uneasiness. He underwent a coronary angiogram and was advised a bypass surgery at the "earliest".

Balaji is likely to be produced before a special court later where the agency will seek his custody. Separately, a habeas corpus petition was filed in the Madras High Court, seeking his being produced before the court.

Chief Minister Stalin, who had slammed the ED raids against Balaji on Tuesday as "intimidation politics", met his Cabinet colleague at the Tamil Nadu Government Multi Super Speciality Hospital, Omandurar Estate.

The chief minister stepped up his attack on the BJP over the ED arresting his Cabinet colleague, as he asserted the minister will face the case legally, and so will the party.

He charged the ED officials of "enacting a drama" in the name of enquiry and accused them of "physically and mentally troubling" Balaji.

The BJP state unit sought to dismiss DMK's charge that it was resorting to vindictive action, saying the ED move was part of an ongoing investigation into the cash-for-jobs scam allegedly involving Balaji.

The agency had launched multi-city searches in the state on Tuesday at the premises linked to the DMK's Karur strongman as part of the probe into money laundering.

The action came months after the Supreme Court allowed a police and ED probe into an alleged cash-for-jobs scam against him.

In the early hours of Wednesday, Balaji was hospitalised after complaining of uneasiness, DMK leaders said. State Minister P K Sekar Babu claimed there were "symptoms" that Balaji was "tortured".

TV visuals showed Balaji feeling uneasy and crying while being brought to the hospital.

"He is in the ICU. He was in an unconscious state and did not respond when we called him by his name. He is under observation...there is a swelling near his ear. Doctors say there is variation in his ECG (electrocardiogram)... these are symptoms of torture," Babu told reporters.

Balaji "underwent Coronary Angiogram at 10.40 am" today, a medical bulletin issued by the Director of the Tamil Nadu Government Multi Super Speciality Hospital, Omandurar Estate, said.

"Coronary Angiogram revealed triple vessel disease, for which CABG (Coronary artery bypass graft) - Bypass Surgery is advised at the earliest," it said.

Meanwhile, the constituents of the DMK-led Secular Progressive Alliance (SPA) lashed out at the ruling BJP at the Centre for the ED action and announced a massive public meeting in Coimbatore on Friday to protest against it over the issue.

A joint statement from SPA leaders including TNCC president K S Alagiri and state secretaries of CPI and CPI (M), R Mutharasan and K Balakrishnan, respectively and VCK founder Thol Thirumavalavan slammed the "anti-people" BJP-led NDA and said it has not done anything for the people in the last nine years in office.

The saffron party was losing elections in many states and has realised it was on the way out in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls and therefore was resorting to "weakening democratic forces" to see if it can emerge victorious in the hustings next year, they said.

The BJP was attempting to scuttle the June 23 meeting of opposition parties in Bihar, held against its "communal, authoritarian politics and as a result vengeful action is being launched in various states using the probe agencies," the SPA said.

TN BJP chief K Annamalai dismissed any charge of vindictive action by his party against the DMK and said the ED action was a culmination of a five-year probe into the cash for jobs scam.

Explaining the case details, he said the Supreme Court had allowed a police and ED probe into the matter recently and insisted the agency action was in line with that only.

"That being the case, how is this political vendetta? Stalin and his alliance party leaders should explain," he told reporters here.

Slamming Balaji and justifying the action against him, AIADMK senior leader and former minister D Jayakumar alleged irregularities in the handling of liquor stock and claimed illegal bars were being operated, resulting in loss to the exchequer.

Liquor sales in Tamil Nadu are nationalised and Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation (TASMAC) is the retailer.

Jayakumar also demanded that the ED should ascertain Balaji's health status with the help of AIIMS doctors and initiate further legal proceedings against him.

The ED had launched searches at locations linked to Balaji at Chennai, Karur and Erode on Tuesday as part of the probe into money laundering.

Balaji was earlier with the AIADMK and had been Transport Minister in the late Jayalalithaa-led Cabinet.

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