The Income Tax department today seized cash worth about Rs 5.5 crore after searches on the premises of Tamil Nadu Health Minister C Vijayabaskar and others even as it is sending a report to the Election Commission in view of the April 12 RK Nagar bypoll.
The I-T sleuths raided 50 locations in Tamil Nadu and seized Rs 5.5 crore from three of Vijayabaskar's 'associates' and 'incriminating' documents which also have references to the bypoll.
The ruling AIADMK faction dubbed the raids as 'harassment' and a bid to countermand the bypoll. The seat fell vacant following the death of J Jayalalithaa.
The IT sleuths recovered 'incriminating' documents from the premises of Vijayabaskar and others, officials said.
Such seized documents also had references to alleged payouts related to the by-election, the officials said.
An amount of Rs 3 crore was allegedly seized from a personal secretary to the minister, about Rs 1.1 crore from a suspected conduit, a similar amount from a pharma company and about Rs 25 lakh were found in envelopes, a senior official told PTI.
The searches were expected to continue and statements were being recorded. Vijayabaskar is under the scanner for over a year and his name cropped up during investigations related to illegal gutka manufacturer and sand mining baron Sekar Reddy, officials said.
His name again figured in "inputs" related to alleged payoff to voters in the bypoll bound constituency, they said, adding these necessitated the searches.
The searches were carried out by over 150 I-T sleuths at Chennai, Pudukottai, Tiruchirappali, Namakkal, Devakottai, and Manapparai. Central security personnel provided security.
The raids that began at 6 AM were also conducted at the premises of AISMK party chief and ally of AIADMK Amma faction Sarath Kumar, Vice Chancellor of state-run Dr MGR Medical University Dr S Geethalakshmi, former AIADMK MP Chitlapakkam Rajendran and at the MLA hostel complex here.
The raid at the premises of the VC was over allegations related to "some transfers," and at the former MP was over the bypoll vis-a-vis tax evasion, officials said.
The IT officials, without giving details, said searches had also been conducted against an MLA in the legislators complex here and Sarath Kumar over suspected tax evasion.
Vijayabaskar, a key campaigner for Amma faction chief T T V Dinakaran, alleged harassment by IT sleuths.
"They have been checking everywhere... Harassment is going on and they were not even allowing my children to go to school," he said.
Officials, however, denied the charge and said they allowed the children to go to school. "We have nothing to do with children," an official said.
The tax sleuths said searches were done also in the wake of "inputs" of black money allegedly being pumped in for the byoll.
O Panneerselvam-led Puratchi Thalaivi Amma faction of AIADMK, DMK, and BJP have already complained of money distribution by Dinakaran-led Amma faction to state Chief Electoral Officer Rajesh Lakhoni.
Sarath Kumar, who yesterday officially pledged support to Dinakaran, alleged that the raid at his home was a case of "political vendetta" and yet he was cooperating with the officials.
Questioning the timing of the raids with just four days to go for the bypoll, AIADMK (Amma) candidate Dinakaran alleged that the grounds were being prepared by his political rivals to countermand the bypoll.
Speaking to reporters, he said, "Can't they do it after the bypoll?
"Enemies and betrayers by ganging up are doing this to cancel the byelection."
Questioning BJP state unit chief Tamilisai Soundararajan's claim that the raids were backed by proof, he demanded to know what proof was she talking about.
Ruling out political angle behind the searches, Soundararajan said the raids were being held after "proper monitoring and with proof".
AIADMK (Amma) MP S R Balasubramoniyan said the searches were aimed at "intimidating AIADMK (Amma) faction and create apprehensions among the people about us".