Officers in Kerala’s vigilance department were in for a surprise when they conducted a raid at the residence of a government-employed environmental engineer this week, given the impeccable manner in which he had stored unaccounted money allegedly received as bribe from various parties. The 51-year-old AM Harris, an engineer and the Kottayam district officer at the Kerala State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB), was arrested on charges of receiving Rs 25,000 from an industrialist.
When the vigilance team during the raid on Wednesday asked about the money he kept, Harris replied that he had Rs 16.60 lakh in his flat. The officers were surprised as the amount was accurate when they inspected it. The currency was kept in kitchen vessels ranging from a rice cooker to a pressure cooker in neat bundles, each worth Rs 50,000.
According to the investigating team, Harris, a native of Pandalam in the Pathanamthitta district, has properties in three districts of the state. He is one of the few occupants of the newly constructed Oberon flat complexes at Alangad near Aluva. The apartment, where the team conducted a raid, is worth Rs 80 lakh at current market rates. A television set, priced around Rs 2 lakh, and a music system worth Rs 1.5 lakh were also found, further indicating that he has assets disproportionate to his income, along with Rs 18 lakh as deposits in the bank.
Travel documents including his passport revealed Harris, a bachelor, has visited over a dozen countries including Germany, Vietnam, Ukraine, Malaysia and Pattaya city in Thailand.
Interestingly, Harris had a clean image and the reports from all the colleagues from where he worked were positive. However, his co-workers had little knowledge of his personal life and it had an air of mystery, according to some.
The vigilance unit caught Harris accepting a bribe of Rs 25,000 from one Jobin Sebastian for renewing the licence for his rubber retreading firm in Pala Pravithanam. The neighbours had lodged a complaint with the KSPCB that the noise made while operating the machinery was unbearable.
According to Jobin, the earlier officials had demanded Rs 1 lakh to renew the licence and Harris had suggested that he would get it for Rs 25,000. Then Jobin approached the vigilance team at the Kottayam unit with a video recording where Harris demanded a bribe. The team arrested Harris from his office while receiving the money marked by them with chemicals.