Ex-Kerala minister Ebrahim Kunju of IUML arrested by Vigilance on graft charges

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(Eds: Adds details, reactions) Kochi, Nov 18 (PTI) Former Kerala minister and IUML MLA V K Ebrahim Kunju was on Wednesday arrested by the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau in connection with alleged corruption in the construction of a flyover here during the previous Congress-led UDF rule, official sources said.

The vigilance sleuths probing the case recorded the arrest of the former public works department minister at a private hospital here, where he was admitted on Tuesday for treatment of multiple myeloma, a type of cancer.

The arrest came eight months after he was arraigned as accused in the corruption case relating to the construction of the Palarivattom flyover in the city.

The Vigilance has alleged Kunju sanctioned interest-free funds to the contracting company, which had built the flyover, now closed after it developed cracks within a year of its inauguration in 2016.

Kunju is the second Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) legislator to be arrested this month. On November 7, police had arrested M C Kamaruddin for allegedly cheating several people who invested in a gold jewellery business.

The opposition Congress-led UDF, of which the IUML is the second major partner, condemned the arrest of Kunju, which came ahead of crucial local body polls next month.

It alleged the arrest was 'politically motivated', aimed at diverting the people's attention from charges of corruption and irregularities faced by the Left front government, the ruling CPI(M) said the action was a natural process after the investigation.

The vigilance team held discussions with doctors before reaching the hospital room and recording Kunju's arrest.

A court here later remanded the IUML leader to 14 days judicial custody.

However, he will continue to remain at the hospital.

Considering his health condition, the judge of the Vigilance court in Muvattupuzha reached the hospital and completed the remand process.

The court is likely to consider on Thursday the custody application moved by the Vigilance and the bail plea of the Kunju.

Earlier in the day, the 10-member vigilance team headed by a DySP reached the residence of Kunju in Aluva.

When they were informed about his hospitalisation, the team with the assistance of women police personnel from the nearby police station carried out a search at his residence.

Doctors attending the former minister are learnt to have said he needs better healthcare as he is in the third stage of the disease which has affected his bones.

Hospital sources said Kunju had been consulting the doctors there since April this year for the ailment.

Kunju, representing Kalamassery constituency in the state assembly, was interrogated multiple times in the past by the agency in connection with the flyover case.

Slamming the arrest, Leader of the Opposition in the Kerala Assembly Ramesh Chennithala alleged Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan was indulging in 'political revenge' by bringing pressure on the Vigilance to target opposition leaders.

Referring to the arrest of Kamaruddin and the Vigilance probe ordered against another IUML MLA K M Shaji over alleged amassing of disproportionate assets, he said Kunju is the third UDF legislator to be 'trapped' and these steps were 'politically motivated'.

The senior Congress leader claimed that Kunju did no wrong.

'He had exercised his discretionary power as the minister in ordering mobilisation advance to the contractor entrusted with the construction of the flyover. What is wrong with it? 'Ministers in the present government have also recommended sanctioning of mobilisation advances to the contractors entrusted with various government projects,' Chennithala claimed.

Rallying behind Kunju, former chief minister and senior Congress leader Oommen Chandy and IUML national general secretary P K Kunhalikutty, MP, questioned the timing of the arrest, alleging it was nothing but 'politically motivated.' They alleged the arrest was aimed at diverting the people's attention from corruption and irregularities 'committed by the Left government.' Defending the arrest, ruling LDF convener A Vijayaraghavan said it was a natural process.

The agency had earlier arrested former PWD secretary T O Sooraj, Managing Director of the RDS Projects Ltd, which built the flyover, Sumit Goyal and main accused M T Thankachan, former additional general manager of the Roads and Bridges Development Corporation of Kerala.

Kunju has dismissed as 'politically motivated' the charges that he was responsible for the poor quality of the bridge, built when he was the PWD minister in the previous UDF government headed by Chandy.

In September this year, the Supreme Court had given its nod for replacing the 750-metre long flyover at Palarivattom here, which was commissioned in October 2016 after the CPI (M)-LDF came to power.

Vijayan, who ordered a Vigilance probe into alleged corruption in the construction of the flyover, had asserted that those involved would not be allowed to go scot-free. PTI TGB VS VS