Drama in Chennai after I-T officials raid Jayalalithaa's Poes Garden residence

Officials from the Income Tax Department, on Friday night, carried out raids at Veda Nilayam, the Poes Garden, Chennai residence of late Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa.

Four Income Tax Department officers, accompanied by at least 20 other officials to help with document sorting, are believed to have conducted the raid, which began at 9.30 pm Friday.

Sources said that the raid was carried out following a tip-off that some electronic devices were to be "clandestinely removed" from rooms that VK Sasikala, Jayalalithaa's long-time aide who is currently in jail, used during her stay at the Poes Garden home.

"We received an input that some important electronic storage devices are going to be clandestinely removed from two rooms used by Sasikala in Vedanilayam. So, we have gone a limited mission and recovered a laptop, four pen drives and a desktop (computer). We are not searching the entire premises," an Income Tax official said.

The sources further added that the officials searched three rooms out of which one belonged to Poongundran, who was Jayalalithaa's personal assistant, while the other two were ones used by Sasikala. Jayalalitha's living place was left untouched, the sources added.

After Jayalalithaa's death last December, Sasikala had continued living at the Poes Garden home until the Supreme Court upheld her conviction in a disproportionate assets case and sent her to jail.

Friday's raid at Poes Garden, came just days after taxmen conducted multi-day searches at premises linked to Sasikala's family and Tamil news channel Jaya TV.

Policemen were deployed in large numbers outside Jayalalithaa's Poes Garden home while Income Tax officials carried out their late-night search (PTI photo)

'TEMPLE TAINTED'

Jaya TV MD and CEO Vivek Jayaraman, whose news channel was a target of the previous multi-day raids, was present Veda Nilayam while the Income Tax officials went about their search.

Disputing the taxmen's assertion that they only recovered some electronic items, Vivek Jayaram, who is also Sasikala's nephew, claimed the I-T officers also took away three bundles of letters AIADMK cadres had written for Jayalalithaa.

"I don't know for what reason they took the letters. They asked permission to search Amma's living space but we denied", he said. "The temple where Amma lived has been tainted now and it is very unfortunate that no one raised any objection."

Interestingly enough, while Vivek Jayaraman was able to enter the Poes Garden home, Jayalalithaa's niece Deepa Jayakumar, who too arrived at the location, was reportedly denied entry. Later in a dramatic statement, Deepa claimed the raids were part of a conspiracy hatched by Sasikala herself.

"Income Tax officials did not inform us about the raids. I am the rightful heir of Jayalalithaa. They broke into our property. It's illegal. I am the rightful heir of Jayalalithaa," Deepa Jayakumar said, before ending with, "It's (a) conspiracy by Sasikala and (her) family," she said.

HIGH DRAMA

Meanwhile, there was high drama outside the Poes Garden residence as ardent AIADMK supporters, most of them supporters of sidelined leader and Sasikala's newphew, TTV Dhinakaran, gathered in protest. "Would they have dared to enter the premises had Amma been alive?", one of the protestors said, with anger visible in his eyes.

The entire stretch of Binny Road, which leads to Jayalalithaa's Poes Garden home was blocked. Police, which had gathered in high numbers, finally started carting the protestors away after some of the men tried dousing themselves in petrol in order to set themselves on fire.

Political blame-game over Friday's raid didn't take too long to begin. While Deepa Jayakumar alleged a conspiracy hatched by the Sasikala family, most of the protestors outside Poes Garden blamed BJP Tamil Nadu chief Tamilisai Soundararajan, BJP leader H Raja and, of course, PM Narendra Modi.

VP Kalairajan, a former AIADMK MLA, said the raids were part of a 'political vendetta'. "They saw the crowd that gathered for TTV Dhinakaran and now they want to break the party fearing it," he claimed

Dhinkaran too reacted to the developments outside and inside Poes Garden, with a message on Twitter that seemingly blamed Tamil Nadu Chief Minister E Palaniswami for orchestrating the raids.

"How will the E Palaniswami government, which has been cheating the people (of Tamil Nadu) and the (AIADMK) party cadre by continuously saying that it will turn Poes Garden (residence) into a memorial (for Jayalalithaa), explain this treacherous act?" Dhinakaran asked in his tweet that was posted in Tamil.

RAIDS ON SASIKALA CLAN

Friday's developments came days after the Income Tax Department carried out extensive, multi-day raids at more than 150 properties, mostly in Chennai.

Those raids targetted the Sasikala clan and premises of Jaya TV. Earlier this week, the Income Tax Department claimed to have unearthed at least Rs 1,400 crore in unaccounted wealth during the multi-day raids.

All the premises in those raids were linked either to Sasikala, her nephew TTV Dhinakaran or Jaya TV.

Some of the places raided included the residence of M Natarajan, Sasikala's husband, in Thanjavur; the Kodanad Tea Estate belonging to late Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa; Jazz Cinemas; Midas Distilleries; Sharada Paper and Boards; Senthil Group of Companies; Nilgiri Furniture in Coimbatore; and Namadhu MGR, a Tamil newspaper.