HC rejects Kerala govt plea against CBI probe into Life Mission project

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(Eds: adding details of court order) Kochi,Jan 12 (PTI) In a setback to the LDF government,the Kerala High Court on Tuesday dismissed a petition challenging the CBI investigation into alleged irregularities in 'Life Mission', a state housing project envisaging total housing for the homeless.

'The instant case would reveal a high profile intellectual fraud played in furtherance of MoU so as to avoid audit by CAG and to get kickbacks and gratifications,' the court said.

The CBI had filed an FIR in a court here under Section 120 B of the IPC and Section 35 of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010 on a complaint by Congress MLA Anil Akkara, listing Santhosh Eappen, Managing Director of Unitac Builder, as main accused and Sane Ventures as second accused.

The Life Mission CEO and Eappen had moved separate pleas in the High Court, submitting that the FIR was 'illegal, arbitrary and nothing but an abuse of the process of law and is, therefore, liable to be quashed'.

Noting that the MoU between LIFE Mission and UAE Red Crescent was to provide AED 10 million financial aid to construct housing units and a health centre for victims of the recent Kerala floods, the court said no subsequent agreements were entered into between the fund provider and the acceptor.

'The very nature of the mischief done in furtherance of MoU would suggest involvement of highly educated professionals--a mastermind behind it', the court said.

As per the MoU, UAE Red Crescent agreed to provide AED 10 million,of which 7 million was to build homes for flood victims and AED 3 million for construction of a health centre.

The court found fault with two subsequent agreements entered into by Consular General of UAE, Thiruvananthapuram and Unitac Builders and Developers and Sane Ventures LLP, headed by Santhosh Eappen.

'It is against the understanding arrived at under the MoU signed by the CEO of LIFE Mission on one part with UAE Red Crescent on the other part.

Neither the UAE Red Crescent nor the state government or LIFE Mission is a party to the two subsequent agreements entered into for implementation of MoU signed by LIFE Mission (state government with UAE Red Crescent', the court said.

On the agreement signed between the UAE Consular General and Unitac Builders and Developers and Sane Ventures LLP to construct a building in state government owned property, the court said it was suspected to be meant to divert the funds to a third person without intervention of either the government or UAE Red Crescent by avoiding CAG audit to get kickbacks and gratifications.

The court said it is seemed to be so unfortunate that the agreements were accepted by the CEO, LIFE Mission.

'The typical nature of the facts involved in the instant case would reveal a high profile intellectual fraud played in furtherance of MoU so as to avoid audit by CAG and to get kickbacks and gratifications', the court said.

In this case, it appeared that all these mischief were done during implementation of part of project 'LIFE Mission' by the permanent members attached to it--the IAS officers with Swapna Suresh, Sandeep Nair, Sarith, Santhosh Eapen and their allies,' the court said.

It said Eappen's admission about the involvement of kickbacks and gratification would itself show his alleged role in the commission of offence and he cannot escape from the liability as he is well aware of the MoU and the understanding arrived at by the UAE Red Crescent with the LIFE Mission.

'It would suggest that he had knowingly entered into agreements overturning the MoU and diverted the foreign contribution to his own hands and played his own role in the game by evading audit by CAG and the procedure and legal formalities to be complied with in awarding the government work,' it said.

The court said the foreign contribution provided by UAE Red Crescent was effectively diverted by manipulating two agreements and inducting strangers, without the juncture of fund provider and the beneficiary so as to get kickbacks and with the active connivance and help of IAS officials connected with the project, including the CEO of LIFE Mission, who had provided and offered all sorts of help and facilitated it.

'The extent of foul play by these officials in facilitating creation of agreements, induction of third person into the issue so as to obtain kickbacks by avoiding audit by CAG is prima facie evident and clear from the above said conduct and hence neither Santhosh Eapen nor the officials under the LIFE Mission who had done all these mischief can escape from criminal liability,' the court said.

The court, however said, mere fact that policy decisions were taken by the Chief Minister, the ministers or the Legislature may not by itself be sufficient to extend criminal liability against them for the wrong done by the non-political executive attached with the project and their allies.

'Hence it is not permissible to extend criminal liability on the political executive merely because they have taken a policy decision and proactive steps in its implementation'.

The alleged FCRA violation and corruption in the project had snowballed into a major political issue with opposition parties alleging that Swapna Suresh, a key accused in the gold smuggling case, had admitted before an NIA court that she had received Rs 1 crore as commission from the project.PTI COR TGB APR ADMINISTRATOR TGB APR ADMINISTRATOR