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In This Chennai Potboiler, Focus is On Chinnamma's 'Conflict of Interest'

Remember, even Donald Trump had to ‘distance’ himself from the Trump empire just after becoming President of the United States. A similar calling may be best advised for ‘Chinnamma’ before fresh questions of a conflict of interest creates more controversy.

Deepa Balakrishnan, Poornima Muralideepab18

Updated:February 13, 2017, 12:06 PM IST
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In This Chennai Potboiler, Focus is On Chinnamma's 'Conflict of Interest'
In this file photo, AIADMK chief VK Sasikala speaks to reporters at Poes Garden in Chennai. (PTI Photo)
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Chennai: NOT that she is a ‘maid.’ Not that she has no experience in governance. Not that she has never faced an election. The chief ministership of ‘Chinnamma’ VK Sasikala is also clouded by further objections over a possible conflict of interest between companies of which she or her family members are share-holders, and their dealings with state government-run entities.

Remember, even Donald Trump had to ‘distance’ himself from the Trump empire just after becoming President of the United States. A similar calling may be best advised for ‘Chinnamma’ before fresh questions of a conflict of interest creates more controversy.

Even as suspense continues over when Governor Vidyasagar Rao would administer her the oath of office, activists and politicians from Opposition parties have now red-flagged ethical concerns over Sasikala’s vast business interests.

Activists like Jayaram Venkatesan, convenor of the Arapor Iyakkam, says that Sasikala has been a majority share-holder in the two companies that own Midas Distilleries, which supplies liquor worth over Rs 1,000 crore to state-run liquor retailing entity Tasmac.

“As of 2016, Sasikala was majority share-holder in the two companies Jazz Cinemas and Signet Exports, which own Midas Distilleries. If a chief minister gives orders of government businesses to companies owned by them or their relatives, that’s a very direct in-your-face conflict of interest,” Venkatesan says.

He says his NGO has been collating data from balance sheets of these companies and records with the Ministry of Corporate Affairs to establish the link. Just last month, they made public their 'expose' on these records but say they are yet to file a case in any court.

Licensed in 2003, Midas had a turnover of Rs 360 crores between 2009 and 2011. In 2014-15, Venkatesan says, its turnover was upwards of Rs 1,400 crore.

They are biding their time before filing a case as they await the Supreme Court order on the disproportionate assets case.

Congress leader Karti P Chidambaram, who is also son of former Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram, points out that these questions have to be addressed.

“There are some serious cases against them. There are serious questions about her immediate family. There is also serious issue of conflict of interest... There have been various allegations about her proximate family and also that they do significant business with the government of Tamil Nadu, because they have distilleries owned by them or close associates which do huge business with Tasmac. So it is a direct conflict of interest,” Karti told News18 on Tuesday.

The Opposition DMK says it will raise this issue at every available forum. Party spokesperson Manu Sundaram says it will make it its mission hold her accountable. “Probity and transparency are unknown to sasikala. She was reprimanded by the Supreme Court in the Tansi case for buying government land for Sasi Enterprises. We don’t expect conflict of interest concerns to affect someone like her who disregards law with impunity. But we will raise the issue certainly,” he told News18.

Analysts feel she may have already given up her stake by now to a family member but there is no clarity on that.

"Constitutional functionaries in India have, by and large, dissociated themselves from profitable positions they held before they assumed the positions of power. Tamil Nadu has seen both Jayalalithaa and Sasikala actively pursue profitable ventures as seen from the Tansi case, where the government sold land to a firm in which Jayalalithaa, who was chief minister at that time, was a partner.

More recently, the ‘taking over’ of Jazz Cinemas by a close relative of Sasikala, apart from the numerous ventures that this person, who was renting out video cassettes has entered into, follows an alarming pattern, which needs to be investigated thoroughly. The ventures that her relatives have floated or have taken over, are far too many. Many in the state believe that this will only continue if she becomes the CM,” says veteran journalist RK Radhakrishnan.

Chinnama’s political future will be decided next week in Delhi when the SC delivers judgment on that disproportionate assets case. And if she is acquitted, she would have crossed only one hurdle.



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| Edited by: Nakshab Khan
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