Fake antiques: Pinarayi defends former DGP Behera, sidesteps uncomfortable questions

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan during in the Assembly
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan during the Assembly session.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan gave a clear hint in the Assembly on Tuesday that, prima facie, he could not find fault with his top police officials, including former State Police Chief Loknath Behera, for their alleged proximity to the fake antiques dealer Monson Mavunkal.

"It was Behera himself who had asked the intelligence wing to probe the affairs of the fraudster," the chief minister said, while responding to an adjournment motion moved on the issue.

Nonetheless, all the facts that the chief minister laid down in the Assembly seemed to eventually turn around and point accusing fingers at the police force under his command.

Take for instance the timeline the chief minister gave of the former DGP's intervention in the Mavunkal issue. Pinarayi was evidently attempting to establish that his former DGP, like any smart and daring police officer, was only trying to size up Mavunkal and his stash of antiques when he sat with the 'staff of Moses' on 'Tipu Sultan's throne'.

Pinarayi said Behera had asked the Intelligence ADGP to investigate Mavunkal's dealings on June 13, 2019, after his visit to the trickster's den. The ADGP submitted a preliminary report on November 25 that year. Behera asked for more details on December 21, which was provided without delay on January 1, 2020.

"From the records I have with me, all this was done," the chief minister said. Then, he shifted the blame to the Centre. "The DGP then shot off a letter to the Enforcement Directorate on February 5 asking the central agency to probe the issue. The ED, however, has not initiated any probe, " he said, as if the ball was now in the centre's court.

But, as Opposition Leader V D Satheesan asked: "What was the Police Department doing with the Intelligence report for two whole years." Satheesan said the Intelligence report said that Mavunkal, who had posed as a cosmetic surgeon, had not gone beyond school education. It also said most of the artefacts in his collection were fake, and noted that some were even stolen. The report even called Mavunkal a "global fraudster".

Though the Home Department was in possession of such a report, the chief minister was asked why his former DGP ordered the police to provide official protection to Mavunkal's residence that held these fake antiques. A beat box was kept near the entrance of Mavunkal's residence to make sure that the fakes were given round-the-clock police guard. The Opposition Leader also said that it was police protection that gave credibility to Mavunkal's fakes.

To all difficult questions posed to him today, the chief minister had a stock reply: "The police investigation that is now in place will look into this."

He was also asked how Mavunkal and an Italy-based self-styled social worker could take part in COCON, a global summit on cyber crimes organised by the Police Department. The chief minister said this, too, would be probed.

Congress MLA P T Thomas, who moved the motion, wanted to know why the chief minister was reluctant to act against his former DGP. "The CAG had found serious corruption in the police modernisation scheme and yet you failed to move a finger against Behera, " he said. He asked why the chief minister was so protective of an officer whom Narendra Modi and Amit Shah wanted to anoint as the CBI director.

Then, as proof that Pinarayi would continue to protect Behera, Thomas held up a government order dated October 3 that according to him had generously revised the salary of Behera in his new post, the MD of Kocho Metro Rail Limited. "Do you have the guts to sign Behera's order of dismissal with the very same pen you used to hike his salary, " Thomas said.

Pinarayi did not respond. The chief minister's strategy, even while defending his officials, was to take a dig at KPCC president K Sudhakaran. During his speech, the chief minister occasionally mentioned Mavunkal's cosmetic business and, without taking any names, sought to create an association with Sudhakaran. "We know who had gone for treatment there, " he said.

Since Sudhakaran himself had said that he had visited Mavunkal for cosmetic consultation, Satheesan took the chief minister's dig head on. "There is nothing wrong in taking cosmetic treatment. It is one of the most thriving businesses in Kerala, " Satheesan said and added: "If it was known this guy was a fraud, would anyone offer his face to such a person."

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