A day after the Enforcement Directorate (ED) summoned top KIIFB officials, Kerala Finance Minister T M Thomas Isaac on Wednesday came out strongly against the move saying that his union counterpart, Nirmala Sitharaman, was indulging in a naked violation of the election code of conduct by using officials under her to sabotage Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board (KIIFB). Isaac also called the ED interrogators "a pack of jokers".
"The summons have come a day after Nirmala Sitharaman spoke at a BJP election rally in Kerala," Isaac told a press conference in Thiruvananthapuram. He said her speech at the election rally was about KIIFB. "But we did not anticipate such a move," Isaac said.
The finance minister said a 2009 batch IRS officer by the name Maneesh was working as the hatchet man for the BJP in Kerala. "He is the son of a BJP leader from Rajasthan's Junjunu village, Hari Singh Godara. "This Maneesh has a dubious track record. He had led many politically motivated raids conducted by the BJP. He was the person who led the raids against Congress leaders in Rajasthan," Isaac said.
He said the latest summons smacked of political intentions. Senior officials of the KIIFB were summoned early in February, and they had gone before the ED on February 17 and 25. "They also agreed to be present before the ED on March 8. But now, a day after the minister came to Kerala, KIIFB officials have been given express summons when they had already agreed to present themselves on March 8. In addition, the new summons had been whatsapped to media outlets also," Isaac said.
The minister said the ED had been after KIIFB since August last year. He said that certain questions posed to the chartered accountant (Venugopal) of M Sivasankar would testify to this. Here is one: "Did any of your clients have any investment in KIIFB?" Isaac said: "What do these people think of the KIIFB? That it is some non-banking financial institution that accepts deposits? They are a pack of jokers."
Isaac said the LDF government would protect its officers. "The ED should not take us for some tame Congress leaders in North India. Kerala is ruled by the Left and not the Congress," he said.
The finance minister said the KIIFB had indeed received a notice from the ED for the violation of Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA). "This is the very same nonsense trotted out by the CAG," Isaac said.
The Comptroller and Auditor General, in his report tabled in the Assembly this January, had noted that under the Constitution the power to raise foreign funds was vested only with the Centre. Isaac had ridiculed this in the Assembly. On Wednesday, he once again said the CAG's observation was "utter nonsense".
According to him, the Constitution had only said that the Centre would have the power to make rules regarding foreign exchange. "Not that only the Centre can take foreign loans," he said. Using these powers, Isaac said the Centre made FEMA, under which RBI is the implementing agency.
"RBI guidelines have a list of entities that could take loans from outside the country. Among them are 'body corporates'," Isaac said. "Under Kerala's law, the KIIFB is a body corporate. Also the KIIIFB, through its authorised agencies Standard Bank and Axis Bank, had submitted an application to the RBI for floating 'masala bonds'. RBI granted its approval and the KIIFB continues to furnish its report on how the funds raised from 'masala bonds' are being deployed," Isaac said.