Did Vigilance Department sleuths raid the head office of Muslim League mouthpiece 'Chandrika' on March 10? And was the Rs 10 crore deposited in the bank account of 'Chandrika' in 2016 the bribe former PWD minister V K Ibrahim Kunju had taken during the construction of the now doomed Palarivattom flyover?
These were the two questions that dominated the House during Discussion Hour in the Assembly on Wednesday.
Culture minister A K Balan said no such raids had taken place in 'Chandrika'. He held up the day's edition of 'Chandrika' and said that not a single word about a raid had been mentioned in the paper. “Even P K Kunhalikutty has said that no raids had taken place,” Balan said.
Muslim League leader and deputy leader of the opposition Dr M K Muneer agreed that no raid had taken place. “But you are trying to create the impression that a raid had taken place in 'Chandrika' with the sly motive of sullying the image of a legendary newspaper,” Muneer said. “You could have just told us to provide any documents you required and we would have willingly done so,” he added.
Muneer pointed out that it was Deshabhimani, the CPM mouthpiece, that said a raid had taken place. A report in Deshabhimani on Wednesday said a raid was conducted at Chandrika office in connection with the Palarivattom flyover scam.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said a “search” was carried out at the Kozhikode office of 'Chandrika' but said it had nothing to do with the daily's journalistic functions. “Rs 10 crore was deposited in the Kochi branch of Punjab National Bank in two instalments, Rs 5.25 crore on November 18, 2016, and Rs 4.75 crore on November 22, 2016. There was an allegation that the money had come from V K Ibrahim Kunju (who was PWD minister during the UDF tenure). It was on the basis of this charge that the search was carried out,” the Chief Minister said.
He said that 35 documents, two CDs and one hard disk were seized from the office. “These will be submitted before the High Court,” the Chief Minister said. He also said that 'Chandrika' fully cooperated with the Vigilance officials.
Earlier, CPM legislator M Swaraj had challenged the Muslim League to account for the Rs 10 crore that was deposited in PNB during the time of demonetisation.
Ibrahim Kunju himself gave the clarification. According to him, the Rs 10 crore that was deposited in the Kochi branch of PNB was the money 'Chandrika' had mobilised from its annual collection drive that year.
“That was the time of demonetisation and the bank software automatically intimated the Income Tax Department whatever the amount deposited in a bank. This being Rs 10 crore, the IT Department was informed anyway. They came to the bank and froze the account,” the former PWD minister said.
He said the IT officials asked for two clarifications. One, the source of the funds. And two, why it was deposited in PNB. He said 'Chandrika' had told the IT officials that the money was deposited in PNB as the daily was running at a loss and had expected some tax relief. “However, after demonetisation, the Centre did away with tax reliefs,” he said. Further, he said PNB was chosen because the original promoters of 'Chandrika', Nedungadi Bank, had amalgamated with PNB.
Ibrahim Kunju said it were the IT officials themselves who then told the 'Chandrika' management that there was a new scheme called the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY). “Chandrika opted for this scheme and settled the issue by paying a penalty of Rs 2.24 crore. The freeze on the account was withdrawn,” Kunju said.
He also tabled a copy of the acknowledgement given by the IT Department. PMGKY was launched in 2016 and under this scheme, income taxpayers are given the opportunity to avoid prosecution by declaring their unaccounted money and paying a penalty on the disputed income.