Twenty-three years after being forced to sell the sprawling Kodanad estate in the Nilgiris district, the Income Tax raids on properties belonging to Jayalalithaa and VK Sasikalaâ€™s family has given Peter Karl Edward Craig Jones a glimmer of hope.
The 906-acre property had belonged to British citizen Peter Jones and his family until 1994. It was in the early 90s that they had set up the Kodanad Tea Estate Private Limited to process and market tea produced in the estate.
But Peter alleges that he was forced to sell the estate for a throwaway price after being coerced and intimidated by Sasikala and her family for years.
More than two decades later, with 187 properties including the Kodanad estate under the I-T scanner, the former owner hopes to reclaim what rightfully belonged to his family once.
â€śFinally, after all this time, this is happening. It is never too late. The truth is the acquisition was done in vulgar ways, over many years. This particular family was given carte blanche to acquire property. They used coercion. Nobody has said anything about it. It was pretty much allowed to happen. It was politically acceptable in Tamil Nadu to let this happen â€“ like it was a right. Glad that a climate is being created now for people like me, and we can expect a fair hearing,â€ť says Peter Jones to TNM.
Pointing to the Disproportionate Assets case, for which Sasikala, her sister-in-law Ilavarasi and nephew Sudhakaran were convicted by the Supreme Court, the British citizen says it was not just his estate that was forcibly acquired. He observes, â€śLook at the case, around the affairs of accumulation of wealth. 38 companies have been involved, not just Kodanad. It wasnâ€™t sold willingly, they coerced us, intimidated us and got the property. Those people who have lost their properties should have an opportunity to get their property back even after so many years.â€ť
Peter acknowledges that since former Chief Minister Jayalalithaaâ€™s death and Sasikalaâ€™s imprisonment, people are finally prepared to talk and ask questions. He is, however, yet to approach the state government, pointing to the political turmoil that the state has witnessed over the past few months.
â€śWho is actually in charge of Tamil Nadu? Who has upper hand? Who should I approach?â€ť asks Peter. He also said that he chose not move court given that it would be a long, drawn out affair.
The Kodanad estate was once Jayalalithaaâ€™s favourite summer retreat. In an earlier interview to TNM, Peter recounted how Sasikala used every means possible to acquire his 906-acre property including using well-known businessmen to negotiate on Jayalalithaa and her behalf. After years of harassment, and intimidation, the Joneses finally handed over the estate to liquor baron turned educationalist NPV Ramasamy Udayar. His daughter-in-law Radha Venkatesan bought the tea estate in 1994 for a mere Rs 7.6 crore. The very next day after the deal had been signed, Udayar handed over the estate to Sasikala. Ilavarasi, Sasikala and Sudhakaran became partners in Kodanad Tea Estate Private Limited.
Jayalalithaaâ€™s summer home is also a crime scene, being witness to a murder this year. On April 24, Kodanad estate reported a break-in, with a security guard found murdered. While the police were quick to pin the blame upon Jayalalithaaâ€™s former driver Kanagaraj, he was found dead in Salem, just days later, purportedly killed in a road accident.