The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has told the Kerala High Court that suspended IAS officer M Sivasankar had a role in the alleged discrepancies in the Life Mission housing project. CBI alleged that M Sivasankar had “hijacked” a memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed by UAE-based NGO Red Crescent and Life Mission, with the aid of smugglers and assistance of a construction company official.
CBI which is probing the controversies related to the ongoing Life Mission project in Thrissur, said that a fraud had been committed in the Life Mission, a housing project for the poor. In its submissions on a plea by the Life Mission seeking quashing of the FIR filed, the CBI defended its decision to launch a probe into alleged violation of the Foreign Contribution (Regulations) Act in the implementation of the project and said the fraud needed to be unearthed fully. After hearing arguments by counsel for CBI and also Life Mission, Justice V G Arun reserved orders on the petition.
On October 1, the court had declined to stay the preliminary probe by CBI and had asked Life Mission to cooperate with the investigation. Alleging a conspiracy to steal money that was intended to benefit the poor, its counsel submitted that the central agency be allowed to probe the case to unearth the fraud completely.
The CBI said it can go ahead with the probe as it was empowered by notifications issued by both the Union government and state government to investigate offences under the FCRA.
Rejecting the CBI counsel's argument, the counsel for Life Mission reiterated the stand that the CBI has no authority in registering a case as the state Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau (VACB) has already launched an investigation into the matter.
Alleging that the CBI probe was politically-motivated, the counsel argued that it damaged the morale of public servants and carrying out an investigation in the case would be a gross abuse of process. The Life Mission CEO UV Jose, in his petition has submitted that the FIR was "illegal, arbitrary and nothing but an abuse of the process of law and is, therefore, liable to be quashed."
The CBI had filed an FIR in a Kochi court under Section 120 B of the IPC (criminal conspiracy) and Section 35 of the FCRA (assisting to accept or acceptance by a political party/ organization of any foreign contribution has been prohibited) on a complaint by Wadakkanchery Congress MLA Anil Akkara, listing Santosh Eappen, Managing Director Unitac Builder and Sane Ventures, as the first accused. Akkara alleged that there has been violation of the FCRA by the Life Mission, private companies and others.
The Life Mission CEO submitted before the court that the complaint was that Unitac and Sane Ventures, two companies which had undertaken the construction based on the agreement entered into with them by Red Crescent, had directly accepted foreign contributions from the Dubai company.
"The said allegation in the complaint and the FIR do not make out any offence under the Act," he had contended in the petition. He had also said the companies which signed an agreement with the Red Crescent do not come under the categories of persons prohibited from receiving any foreign contribution as per Section 3 of the FCRA.
The alleged FCRA violation and corruption in the project had snowballed into a major political issue with the opposition parties alleging that Swapna Suresh, a key accused in the gold smuggling case, had admitted before an NIA court that she had received Rs 1 crore as commission from the project.
Red Crescent, an international humanitarian movement, had agreed to provide Rs 20 crore towards the Life Mission project. The opposition has alleged that there was corruption involved in the selection of the contractor by Red Crescent.