A 2.49 acre land valued over Rs 30 crore belonging to the sister-in-law of Tamil Nadu minister V. Senthil Balaji has been frozen as part of an ongoing money laundering investigation against him, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) said on Thursday.
The property located in Karur was unearthed by the agency during searches undertaken on Wednesday and it, along with an under-construction bungalow being built on the land, has now been placed under a freeze order in accordance with section 17(1A) of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).
This particular section of the anti-money laundering law speaks about powers granted to an investigator to freeze a record or property where it is not practical to seize such a record or property.
The ED said in a statement that the land is located at Salem bypass road in Karur district and it was "acquired" by P. Lakshmi, the mother-in-law of Senthil Balaji's brother R.V. Ashok Balaji, and it was later "gifted" by Lakshmi to her daughter and Ashok Balaji's wife, Nirmala.
The federal agency said its investigation found that "a substantial parcel of land measuring 2.49 acre located at Salem bypass road, Andankoil, Karur was acquired by P. Lakshmi from one Anuradha Ramesh for a mere Rs 10 lakh, as against the land's true value amounting to more than Rs 30 crore".
"However, while scrutinizing the income source of P. Lakshmi, it was revealed that she lacked any credible means of income and her assertion of selling old jewellery to secure Rs 10 lakh for the land purchase was proven to be fictitious," the agency claimed.
Subsequently, the ED said, this plot of land was "gifted to her daughter Nirmala, wife of Ashok Balaji".
It was found that the remaining sum required for the land acquisition was "paid in cash" to Anuradha Ramesh. This cash, in turn, was employed by Anuradha Ramesh to procure another piece of land in the same vicinity, the agency said.
It said Ashok Balaji, Nirmala and P. Lakshmi have been issued multiple summons but they are "yet to appear in person, demonstrating a lack of cooperation with the ongoing investigation".
Senthil Balaji, 47, is currently lodged in the Puzhal jail here and he continues to be a minister without portfolio in the Chief Minister M.K. Stalin-led Tamil Nadu government after he was arrested by the ED on June 14 in the money laundering case linked to an alleged cash-for-jobs scam when he was the transport minister during the previous AIADMK regime.
Senthil Balaji is in ED custody till August 12 on the basis of a sessions court order.
Earlier, the Supreme Court dismissed petitions filed by Senthil Balaji and his wife challenging a Madras High Court order upholding his arrest in the case.
The ED had earlier claimed that Balaji "misused" his office for illegal gratification and "engineered" a job racket scam in the state transport undertakings during 2014-15 with purported kickbacks paid by candidates through his associates that includes Ashok Balaji and his personal assistants B. Shanmugam and M. Karthikeyan.
"This led to jobs being awarded at the expense of deserving candidates," the ED alleged.
The ED filed a case of money laundering in September 2021 to probe these allegations and its complaint is based on three Tamil Nadu Police FIRs filed during 2018 and some later years by some of those who failed to get the promised jobs.