Vivek Jayaraman, 28, an MBA graduate who has been managing most of the businesses left behind by his aunt V.K. Sasikala and properties of late Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa, has been in the media glare for the past six days.
With a tiny single diamond stud on his ear and a dot of saffron on his forehead, he looked terrified as he stepped out of his house in the upmarket Mahalingapuram in Chennai on Tuesday. Otherwise a low profile person, Jayaraman has been gaining a lot of media attention not because of any political aspirations he harbours, but because he is the wealthiest of all in the Sasikala clan.
Son of Illavarasi and Jayaraman, who died of an electric shock while working at Jayalalithaa’s Hyderabad farm, Vivek Jayaraman was the uncrowned prince of the Mannargudi empire when Jayalalithaa breathed her last on December 5, 2016. The next day, he was seen seated next to his aunt and mother as Jayalalithaa's mortal remains was kept at Rajaji Hall for the people to pay respects. While Sasikala’s husband M. Natarajan and her politically active nephew T.T.V. Dhinakaran maintained low profile during Jayalalithaa’s death and funeral, Jayaraman and his wife were prominent faces. There were even rumours among the AIADMK cadre that Jayalalithaa’s baton would be passed on to the youngster. Jayaraman's name had come up when there were talks about Jayalalithaa’s unwritten will.
Almost an year after the death of the late chief minister, when the Mananrgudi clan has been targetted with raids, Jayaraman and his elder sister Krishnapriya were in the eye of the storm because he knew everything about the wealthy Mannargudi empire.
It all began in 2012, after the reentry of Sasikala, after she and her entire family were banished from Poes Garden on December 19, 2011 by the late chief minister herself. With Sasikala's return, Jayaraman got a new lease of life. Jayalalithaa was highly impressed by Jayaraman who had completed his MBA from Australia and had management experience through his stint at ITC. This was when Jaya TV, which was once headed by Dhinakaran’s wife Anuradha and later by her sister Prabha Shivakumar, was handed over to him.
Soon, Hot Wheels Engineering, which was one of the 32 companies named in the disproportionate assets case, was rechristened as Jazz Cinemas and Illavarasi and Sasikala took over as directors of the company in 2013-14. The firm went on to acquire some of the giant multiplexes in Chennai. There were reports of Jazz Cinemas and Mannargudi family arm-twisting a major multiplex complex owner in Chennai. Unperturbed by such reports, Jazz Cinemas acquired Luxe Cinemas at Phoenix Mall in Chennai.
Currently, Jayaraman and his Jazz Cinemas control over 350 screens in a state where cinema and politics have been strange bedfellows.
Jazz Cinemas was managed by late journalist Cho Ramaswamy and Jayalalithaa’s personal assistant Poongundran, but soon Dhinakaran’s half-brother K.S. Shivakumar and Krishnapriya’s husband Karthikeyan Kaliaperumal took over its management. Sasikala and Ilavarasi signed the papers as managing directors then and the transfer was made. Later, Jayaraman took over as its CEO.
By 2015, Sasikala’s shares in Jazz Cinemas zoomed from 4,100 to 41.67 lakh.
When Sasikala was out on bail in October, she stayed at Krishnapriya’s residence, where, according to AIADMK insiders, money transactions and transfer of shares of over 30 shell companies were made. Reportedly, Rs.1,430 crore is estimated as the amount of tax evasion by the Mannargudi clan and a big chunk of this is by Jayaraman and the companies owned by him. Though Shivakumar and Kaliaperumal are the directors in at least 30 of the 32 shell companies, Jayaraman's role in each of them has risen, as every company has in turn invested in the other.
It took five days for the IT officials to complete searches at Jayaraman's residence. Though his cousin Dhinakaran dubbed the raids “politically motivated”, both Jayaraman and his sister brushed aside any political links to the raids. They were of the opinion that raids are a normal procedure and they are “cooperating” with the IT department.
Nonetheless, Jayaraman's body language and his vague tone during a press conference after the raids, did say a different story—that he and his sister were terrified by the raids as they have much to lose.
“The tax evasion is huge. We have recovered several reams of documents linked to investments worth over Rs.1200 crore,” say sources in the Income Tax department. After five days of continuous raids, Krishnapriya, Jayaraman and Shivkumar have been summoned for questioning.