Kerala's political scrap may uncover India's judicial "fixer"

Nov 7, 2011 15:01 IST

#CJI   #ConnectTheDots   #Matthews Nedumpara   #TG Nandakumar  

By VK Shashikumar, Canary Trap, Special to Firstpost

A seemingly innocuous early morning (8.00am) half-hour meeting on 23 October at a guest house in Aluva (Alleppey) between former Kerala Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan and a Dubai-based non-resident Indian, Thekkemuri Gopinathan Nandakumar (or TGN Kumar), has set off a raging political controversy.

Cabinet ministers of the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF), led by Congress Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, says Nandakumar is a "corporate broker" and a “"judiciary fixer". UDF leaders have described the meeting between Achuthanandan and Nandakumar as "mysterious" and "unbelievable".

Supreme Court of India. Reuters

“Nandakumar has so far been widely acknowledged in Kerala’s legal circles as the "fixer" for a former Chief Justice of India (CJI)," claims Kerala lawyer Mathews J Nedumpara, who heads the Mumbai-headquartered National Lawyers Campaign for Judicial Transparency and Reforms.

Firstpost has exclusive access to the litany of complaints despatched by the National Lawyers Campaign, an intelligence report and Nandakumar’s bank statements. These documents raise serious questions about the nature of Nandakumar’s relationship not only with Justice Balakrishnan, but several other top high court and Supreme Court judges (past and present) and politicians.  However, we are not publishing the entire contents of the complaints because they may be substantially libellous and—at this point—unsubstantiated.

However, the case of the alleged fixer, Nandakumar, is another matter. Dogged investigative reporting by local newspapers and Malayalam news channels in Kerala has revealed suspicious transactions of a value of Rs 40 crore in Nandakumar’s bank accounts.

This has blown the lid off the tightly corked bottle of "legal fixing" in the Indian judiciary. The fizz spilling out of this bottle of secrets is bound to make Nandakumar infamous as the story travels from the deep-south to India’s power capital, New Delhi.

The glut of high-profile corruption cases crowding the courts in Delhi may have provided the perfect camouflage to hide the consternation in judicial and political circles about Nedumpara’s allegations – which have been circulated to everyone from the president down to the vice-president and the PMO and the ministry of law (See acknowledgement from president's office). But media reports in Kerala have been pointing out for over nearly two weeks that the Kerala police and intelligence agencies have been investigating this man for nearly a year. "Nandakumar was a conduit for corrupt judges," alleges Nedumpara.

President Secretariat Response


That remains to be established, but prima facie, Nandakumar’s meteoric rise does require detailed examination. His story is intricately complex. So it's important to start the narrative from the complaint sent by Nedumpara to the Chief Justice of India.

Here is an extract from the National Lawyers Campaign’s confidential letter dated 4 February 2011:

"I have very definite and absolutely reliable information of a conduit...He is Mr. TGN Kumar, his Cell Phone numbers are 9847095080…and…. He may be a matriculate, at the most an under-graduate.  His only and exclusive business is being a conduit of judges.  There are many judges of the Supreme Court and the high courts (of) whom he claims to be, and I believe truly, a conduit.  He has a long list of judges, of whom he claims to be a conduit."

The letter then goes to name several judges from various high courts and even the Supreme Court, which Firstpost is not publishing for obvious reasons.

But the letter makes it clear that Kumar needs to be investigated since he has risen from nothing to a millionaire. Says Nedumpara: "He was a small-time personal assistant to the late Shri Harkishan Singh Surjeet (former CPM General Secretary) , drawing two or three thousand rupees as salary 15 years before.  What is he today!  He is a millionaire, lives abroad.  He has no job or occupation known to the world except being a conduit, a 'fixer' in popular parlance."

The letter also claims that Kumar was close to the previous CM of Kerala, and calls for an investigation. He followed it up with another letter on 5 March, in which he dragged in the name of former CJI Balakrishnan, and makes a reference to senior Kerala high court advocate K Ram Kumar, who told a TV channel without naming Kumar directly that he "is a frequent visitor to many judges of the Supreme Court...An inquiry focused on Shri TGN  Kumar will lead to many skeletons tumbling down."

It appears that Nedumpara also met the former chief of external spy agency Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW chief), Hormis Tharakan, and the Intelligence Bureau has been probing the mysterious activities of Nandakumar. The Kerala police’s crime branch is investigating a case registered against him by an activist, Jomon Puthenpurackal, who is well known in the state for his campaign for justice in the Sister Abhaya murder case.

Puthenpurackal filed a complaint to former Kerala Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan accusing Nandakumar of forging his signature while sending a complaint to the president of India against Justice Abdul Rahim, currently a sitting judge in the Kerala High Court, days before his appointment as high court judge.

Nandakumar is charged with forging Puthenpurackal's signature in the complaint letter which claimed that Justice Rahim had connections with terror groups and organisations sympathetic to such groups.

Authoritative sources in Kerala police’s crime branch, who wished to remain unnamed, claimed that "the crime branch has recorded statements from Nandakumar and Puthenpurackal, but could not proceed further as the registrar of the Supreme Court didn’t hand over the forged letter to the police for verification of the signature."

The objective of this mischief, allegedly hatched by Nandakumar, was to stall Justice Rahim’s appointment as a high court judge. All this happened during the tenure of Balakrishnan as the Chief Justice of India.

The Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau (VACB) director, KP Somarajan, had directed Vigilance SP, Ernakulam, to inquire into the assets of TG Nandakumar. Nothing much has been heard on this front ever since. Puthenpurackal says Nandakumar had amassed assets worth Rs 40 crore in the last five years.

Firstpost learns that at one stage, Nandakumar was accused of attacking a school teacher, which led to the registration of a case against him at Trikkakara. He was later acquitted in the case.

At the small tea-stall grandly named 'Food Court Tea Stall' just outside the Kerala High Court premises in Kochi, the favourite topic of discussion these times amongst lawyers is Nandakumar’s rise from a matriculate (Class X pass-out) to the suave international traveller who goes only business class.

"He has amazing access to judges in various high courts across the country. He walks into the chambers of certain Supreme Court judges. During Justice Balakrishnan’s tenure, Nandakumar was treated like a VIP in Supreme Court. Such was his clout," claims Nedumpara.  "How did an uneducated resident of Thammanam in Ernakulam city become such an influential mover and shaker in the Indian judiciary? How did he get the clout to walk announced into the residences of Supreme Court and high court judges?"

Excerpts from an intelligence report (See document) suggest that Nandakumar identifies himself sometimes as "Dr Kumar" and at other times as "Advocate Kumar". Lawyers in Kerala, though, have nicknamed him as "Complaint Kumar" because of his penchant to shoot off allegedly forged complaint letters!

The intelligence report goes on to state that "he introduces himself as an advocate of the Supreme Court. He is a regular domestic passenger of Jet Airways and Kingfisher flights to Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai from Kochi. He is in the habit of wearing safari suits and travelling in executive class...His flight tickets are booked by Akbar Travels in Palarivattom, Ernakulam."

The intelligence report surprisingly provides lot of leads for the law enforcement agencies, as it gives his passport, phone and fax numbers.

Nandakumar, 41, spends most of his time in Dubai, but he has a Rs 1 crore house in Thammanam, Ernakulam, which is currently occupied by his mother. Before his meteoric rise he was an active worker of the Kerala Students Union and later the Youth Congress.

“His stints as personal assistant to Harkishan Singh Surjeet in the mid-1990s brought him in close contact with politicians in Delhi. This was followed by his stint as personal assistant to Justice Sukhdev Singh Kang when he was Governor of Kerala. His easygoing ways and glib talk helped him make friends with politicians, high-profile lawyers and litigants,” says Nedumpara.

According to the National Lawyers Campaign, by 2003, thanks to the support from some judges, Nandakumar allegedly morphed into a fixer. He became a regular in the high courts of Chennai, Mumbai and Bangalore and also in the Supreme Court.

In 2007, Nandakumar’s shenanigans attracted the attention of the Intelligence Bureau. How was a person with no known sources of income frequently travelling business class to Dubai and Europe?

Why was Nandakumar’s entry and exit from Kochi’s airport so privileged? These and several other such unknown facets of ‘TGN’ (as he is known in Kerala) came under IB’s watch.

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In fact, an intelligence officer posted at Kochi airport faxed two reports numbered 574 (dated October 10, 2008) and 656 (dated November 12, 2008) alerting the agency about Nandakumar’s ease of entry and exit from Kochi airport.

This was followed by another IB report dated 20 January 2009 in which an intelligence officer despatched a fax to his unit head stating that an Inspector General of Police directed the immigration officials at Kochi airport to clear Nandakumar who arrived from Dubai by Emirates flight EK-530.

The report stated: ““The arrival of the subject was informed in advance by *********(name with-held) to airport immigration and immigration was asked by IGP to clear him without delay. Accordingly, on arrival he was received by an immigration official and cleared  and allowed to leave the airport immediately”.

Nandakumar’s travel records, locked in the Kerala police crime branch files, reveal that he indeed took off from Kochi for Dubai on 8 January 2009 on Emirates flight EK 531 and returned on 20 January 2009 by EK 530. On 26 January 2009 he again left for Dubai and returned on 4 February 2009.

The intelligence report further says: “The subject came to notice travelling to Delhi and coming back on the same day on two occasions recently. He left for Delhi on 5 October 2009 and returned by IC flights. Both occasions one Union minister of state and a Union minister travelled to Kochi in the same flight. The Union minister was noticed coming out of the airport and patting on the shoulder of the subject (Kumar) before parting at the airport”.

A political scandal is brewing and it has set wagging tongues. But Chief Minister Oommen Chandy is still fighting shy of ordering a full-scale investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation. Especially when in March 2011, Chandy (then in the role of the leader of the opposition), had sought a probe into a Kerala government deal allegedly “fixed” by Nandakumar.

Chandy had accused the then LDF government led by VS Achuthanandan of corruption for transferring the control of the State Data Centre to the Reliance group and demanding an inquiry into the deal. The State Data Centre (SDC) was set up by the Kerala government in 2005 in Thiruvananthapuram to boost e-governance activities of the state.

Incidentally, the data centre was set up when Chandy was the Chief Minister on an earlier occasion. It was first entrusted to C-Dat, a central government organisation, for a period of three years. When this arrangement lapsed the LDF government transferred control of the centre to Reliance group in 2008. The allegation is that this transfer or deal was facilitated by Nandakumar.

At a hurriedly convened press conference during the LDF regime, Chandy said he was distressed to know that the “Reliance group has been allowed to take over the public sector data centre. The Chief Minister (Achuthanandan) has deviated from the Left Democratic Front's declared anti-privatisation policy. By getting easy access to vital data stored at the centre, the Reliance group could use it to further its business interests and cause financial loss to the state government.”

“The chief minister was not able to give a convincing explanation on the issue when it was first raised in the assembly by PC George in 2008. The gravity of the case had enhanced following an allegation by lawyer Ram Kumar that TG Nandakumar, who claims he was a paid consultant to the Reliance, had close links with Mr Achuthanandan.”

After having made such a strong statement as leader of the opposition in March 2011, one wonders why Chandy as the current CM is maintaining a studied silence. Is it because Nandakumar also has strong ties to Congress ministers?

Strangely, except for Chandy, other Congress leaders are going ballistic on this potentially juicy corruption scandal. “The passport of Nandakumar will provide all details of his travels abroad,” says PC Vishnunath, Congress MLA and State Youth Congress president. He questioned the purpose of Achuthanandan’s recent meeting with the alleged fixer. “Nandakumar is a corporate broker with no credibility. Why should VS meet such a person? This proves that Achuthanandan’s claim of political morality is just a mask.”

Even LDF politicians in Kerala are embarrassed by the former chief minister’s links to an alleged “corporate broker”. But the man at the centre of the controversy is denying any wrongdoing. Even Nandakumar has blamed “vested interests” for spinning a yarn over his “very personal meeting” with Achuthanandan.

“My meeting him had nothing to do with politics or legal cases. It was personal,” he told journalists on phone from Dubai. “I have met VS several times when he was CM. But none of those meetings was a secret. I had met him as a representative of my client companies on matters related with the industrialisation of Kerala. One such company is still involved in the proposed Vizhinjam container trans-shipment project.”

The income tax department has found that big transactions worth crores were made through Nandakumar’s bank account held at ICICI Bank, MG Road, Ernakulam. During June 2009 his account showed an entry of Rs 4.5 crore. This happened around the time when the LDF government decided to transfer the State Data Centre to Reliance.

Kerala’s crime branch, vigilance and anti-corruption bureau and state intelligence bureau have dossiers on Nandakumar and his activities. The National Lawyers Campaign, led by Nedumpara, has shared several intelligence inputs with the who’s who of the Indian establishment. Suspicious bank transactions in the account of Nandakumar are no longer a secret. His links with judges, politicians and corporate entities are the stuff of endless discussions in Kerala these days.

What is preventing Oommen Chandy from recommending a CBI inquiry?