Kerala Transport minister Antony Raju has been accused of altering the size of an underwear, material evidence in a drug peddling case, as counsel for the accused.

Kerala Transport Minister Antony RajuFacebook
news Controversy Thursday, July 21, 2022 - 10:21

An exhibit in a case related to smuggling of drugs, in which he appeared as a counsel for the accused, has come back to haunt Kerala’s Transport Minister Antony Raju after 32 long years. Court documents describe the exhibit, a crucial bit of evidence, as dirty dark blue underwear. A leader of the Janadhipathya Kerala Congress, a minor ally of Kerala's ruling Left Democratic Front, Antony Raju represents the Thiruvananthapuram Assembly constituency. The drug peddling case pertains to an incident in which an Australian national, Andrew Salvatore Cervelli, was caught with hashish concealed in his underwear at the Thiruvananthapuram airport in 1990.

Antony Raju at that time was working as a junior of counsel Selin Wilfred in Thiruvananthapuram and appeared for the accused at the court. The foreign national was later acquitted after his lawyers argued that the garment produced as evidence was of small size and not fitting on the accused. Jayamohan, the investigating officer in the drug peddling case, moved the High Court raising the concern of tampering of evidence. Subsequently, the Vanchiyoor police in Thiruvananthapuram registered a case in 1994.

The investigation found that Jose, a court clerk, in connivance with Antony Raju tampered with the material evidence. Both of them were charged with conspiracy, tampering of documents, cheating and destruction of evidence. 

The case came back to public attention in 2006, a month before the Assembly polls, after Antony Raju was chargesheeted by investigating officers. It went out of the news cycle for many years and resurfaced in the second week of July this year when court documents that put him on the dock became publicly available. As per the chargesheet, Raju collected the belongings, which includes the said dark blue underwear, from the court and later returned it, after altering its size. The police later got information that the garment was collected from the courtroom by bribing a clerk in charge. Media reports said though the case was taken for hearing multiple times, the charge sheet was not read out to the accused and the trial is yet to begin.

It has also emerged that Australian investigators learned about the swapping of underwear by bribing a court clerk in Kerala after Andrew Salvatore Cervelli was booked in a murder case Down Under.

Australian National Central Bureau in a communication to India in 1996 stated: “According to previous inquiries with Interpol New Delhi, Andrew Salvatore Cervelli was convicted in Trivandrum India with this conviction later being set aside. This information is consistent with Cervelli having returned to Australia on a Qantas flight with no corresponding exit details. On Thursday Januray 25, 1996, Detective Senior Constables Green and Woolfe attended at tge Melbourne Remand Centre where Cervelli's co-accused in the murder of Ismet Shyqyri Balla, Wesley John Paul was interviewed. Paul offered detectives information regarding Cervelli having been acquitted. Paul claims that the circumstances were detailed to him by Cervelli while the two were in custody on remand. Cervelli was arrested with a quantity of the drugs concealed in his underwear.”

It further stated, “After his arrest, members of Cervelli's family traveled to India where a bribe was allegedly paid to a court official (Paul used the word Clerk of Courts). The court official allegedly swapped the underwear worn by Cervelli at the time of the arrest with a smaller pair. At a later court proceeding the defense made an issue of the accused not being able to fit the underwear being presented at an exhibit and Cervelli was consequently acquitted. Given the previous correspondence with Interpol New Delhi regarding this matter. I hereby request that this further information be forwarded to their office for their attention in due course.”

Speaking in the Assembly, Opposition leader VD Satheesan said Antony Raju is not fit to continue as a minister because of the serious nature of allegations against him. "The minister has been accused of tampering with crucial evidence in a case. How can someone like him continue to be part of the cabinet," he asked.

BJP state president K Surendran has also called for the minister's resignation and said the party would launch an agitation if he fails to do so. A petition has now been filed in the Kerala High Court seeking to expedite the trial. Antony Raju, however, has maintained that he is now on bail in the case and that he has not hidden the information regarding the case while contesting the Assembly elections.

Antony Raju, however, has maintained that he is now on bail in the case and that he has not hidden the information regarding the case while contesting the Assembly elections.

Become a TNM Member for just Rs 999!
You can also support us with a one-time payment.