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Explained: In Kerala highway robbery, rising loot & a poll twist

Kerala highway robbery: Although it happened in the early hours of April 3, it was only on April 7, the day after voting for the Assembly elections took place, that the driver of the robbed car complained to police.

A highway robbery in the early hours of April 3, three days before Kerala went to polls, has snowballed into a larger controversy that has caught state BJP leaders in its wake. Police have arrested 19 persons allegedly involved in the robbery. Three district leaders of BJP have been questioned and notices have been served to three others, including party state secretary (organisation) M Ganeshan.

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Robbery and probe

It took place on the Kodakara stretch of the National Highway between Thrissur and Ernakulam districts. Although it happened in the early hours of April 3, it was only on April 7, the day after voting for the Assembly elections took place, that the driver of the robbed car complained to police. He told police that robbers had chased the car and snatched Rs 25 lakh. He said the money belonged to Kozhikode resident A K Dharmarajan, who was travelling in another car towards Kochi where he had planned to invest the money in real estate.

In the police probe, a number of suspects were arrested one after the other, including individuals who had helped stash the money. From the premises of the arrested gang, police recovered money — which was more than the Rs 25 lakh that was reported robbed.

Question marks

The events that unfolded after the robbery have raised several questions. For one, Dharmarjan or his driver did not complain until the elections were over. Again, the money recovered was more than what was claimed robbed — and kept on increasing as the probe continued. By latest updates, police had recovered Rs 1 crore. And based on the confessions of those arrested, investigators have concluded that the looted money could be Rs 3.50 crore.

As the robbery got coverage in local media, CPI(M) state secretary A Vijayaraghavan alleged that the looted money was unused election funds, that local BJP leaders had staged the highway robbery, and that BJP leaders are involved in the looting of election funds. Loktantrik Yuva Janata Dal national president Saleem Madavoor complained to the Enforcement Directorate that the robbed amount was Rs 3.50 crore (which matches the estimate of investigators) and that it was meant for elections in southern Kerala.

BJP: probe and denial

The BJP has denied allegations of its leaders being involved in movement of illegal funds. Party state president K Surendran said the party has no links with the robbery and it did only digital transactions in the Assembly elections. The party has described the police questioning of BJP leaders as a drama.

The police probe found that Dharmarajan, who lost the money, has an RSS background and has been close to several BJP leaders in his hometown Kozhikode. He claimed that former Yuva Morcha state treasurer Sunil Naik had handed him Rs 25 lakh for his real estate business. Naik, in turn, told police that he had similar transactions with Dharmarajan and had never asked about the purpose of the finance, and was not privy to Dharmarajan’s real estate investment.

Police last week questioned three BJP leaders from Thrissur — district general secretary K R Hari, central regional secretary Kashinathan, and district treasurer Sujay Senan. The probe will seek to establish whether the looted amount, believed to be Rs 3.50 crore, belonged to the BJP; whether party leaders were involved in leaking the movement of the money to gangsters; and what was the source and destination of the money.

BJP leaders in line to appear before police include state general secretary (organisation) and senior RSS pracharak M Ganeshan, and BJP state office secretary G Gireeshan. Police have served them notices to appear before investigating officers. But the BJP leaders have sought more time.

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