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Sleaze, bribes and audio tape: What Solar Scam in Kerala is all about

Quick lowdown on the Solar Scam in Kerala that has put CM Oommen Chandy in serious trouble

IBNLive.com

Updated:January 29, 2016, 2:29 PM IST
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Sleaze, bribes and audio tape: What Solar Scam in Kerala is all about
Quick lowdown on the Solar Scam in Kerala that has put CM Oommen Chandy in serious trouble

A vigilance court in Kerala on Thursday ordered an FIR against Chief Minister Oommen Chandy in the solar scam .

This comes a day after the prime accused in the case, Saritha S Nair, deposed before a judicial panel that Chandy had accepted bribes amounting to Rs 1.90 crore from her. Saritha also levelled bribery allagations against his power minister Aryadan Mohammed .

Here is a quick lowdown on what the solar scandal in Kerala is all about.

How it started: In 2013, a fake solar energy company named Team Solar -- floated by Biju Radhakrishnan and Saritha S. Nair -- duped several influential people of about 70 million rupees by offering to make them business partners. They also allegedly received advance payments by offering to install solar power units . The company used two women to create political contacts with links even to the Chief Minister's office.

Brief sunshine: The company awarded a "Virgin Earth Golden Feather Environment Award" to several prominent people of Kerala to gain media coverage and credibility. They also hired a well-known woman actor as "brand ambassador."

The eclipse: The scam came to light when one of the customers who paid for the installation filed a case against the company. Soon the media spotlight was on the company and on Saritha. Over several months, Opposition Left parties stalled assembly proceedings, laid siege to the state secretariat and battled police on the streets in their campaign for Chandy's resignation.

Why Chandy? a) Two of his personal staff members were allegedly involved and were suspended after investigations b) The two staffers allegedly made several phone calls to Saritha and the accused allegedly forged letters in his name to defraud customers. c) A quarry owner, Sridharan Nair, claimed he and Saritha had met Chandy at his office, during which the CM allegedy encouraged him to invest in solar energy d) Saritha's statement before the inquiry panel that both the CM and his power minister accepted bribes from her.

Chandy's defence: a) The CM claims he has evidence that the liquor lobby in state was trying to implicate him in the case after he shut down hundreds of bars. b) He denies any direct links to the phone calls made by his personal staff c) He denies meeting the quarry owner other than at a general meeting d) He recently deposed before the judicial commission for a record 14 hours, but refused to take a lie-detector test.

Tapes and other sidelights: a) A leaked audio tape had the state Congress general secretary, Thampanoor Ravi, advising Saritha to "play safe" in her testimony, but the MLA rejected charges that he was trying to "coach" her. b) Biju recently took the state police for a long ride by suggesting he has videotapes incriminating Chandy c) There were reports that sex, or at least such promises, were used to snare some of those involved in the scandal

What now: Chandy is facing an FIR in a bribe case. He also has to fend off loud demands from the Opposition and snide ones from within his party to quit.

With its chief minister and power minister facing an FIR in the solar scam , and the finance minister and excise minister already having quit over the bar bribery case, the Congress-led coalition is in a tricky situation with just a few months to go for assembly elections.

With the modus operandi of the scam catching public imagination, Saritha now has a rockstar status. Videos of her in leotards go viral, and young men try to get her autograph when she turns up for functions.

(Reported by Neethu Reghukumar)

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