With the Enforcement Directorate (ED) summoning 10 Telugu film personalities, the spotlight is back on the drugs racket which had rocked Tollywood — the Telugu film industry four years ago. The ED on Wednesday issued notices to 10 persons connected to Tollywood and two others including a private club manager. However, unlike the Telangana Excise and Prohibition Department that looked into the distribution and consumption of drugs, the ED has issued the summons as part of a money laundering probe linked to the drugs racket. The ED has asked actors Rakul Preet Singh, Rana Daggubati, Ravi Teja, Charmme Kaur, Navdeep, Mumaith Khan and director Puri Jagannadh to appear before it between August 31 and September 22. Tanish, Nandu and actor Ravi Teja's driver Srinivas are also among those summoned.
The development has created ripples in Tollywood as the two leading actors — Rana and Rakul — who were not questioned by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the Telangana Excise and Prohibition Department two years ago, have also been summoned by the ED. However, an ED official has clarified that for now they will be treated only as witnesses.
The ED has issued notices under Section 50 of the Prevention of Money-Laundering Act (PMLA), which deals with “Powers of authorities regarding summons, production of documents and to give evidence, etc.” Reports suggest that the movement of drugs is being considered a scheduled offence under the PMLA, and therefore, falls under the jurisdiction of the ED.
Rakul Preet has been asked to appear on September 6 while Rana has been summoned on September 8. Both were not in the list of celebrities questioned by the SIT earlier. The ED has asked Ravi Teja to appear on September 9 and Mumaith Khan has been summoned on September 15.
Last month, a court in Hyderabad had accepted the chargesheets filed by the SIT of Telangana's Excise and Prohibition Department. The drugs racket came to light on July 2, 2017 when Customs officials arrested Calvin Mascarenhas, a musician, and two others, and seized drugs worth Rs 30 lakh from their possession. They had reportedly told the investigators that they were supplying drugs to film celebrities, software engineers, and even students of some corporate schools. Mobile numbers of some Tollywood celebrities were allegedly found in their contact lists.
The Excise Department had constituted the SIT for a comprehensive probe. A total of 12 cases were registered, 30 people were arrested while 62 individuals including 11 people connected with Tollywood were examined by the SIT under Section 67 of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act and section 161 of the Criminal Procedure Code.
The SIT had collected blood, hair, nail and other samples from some of those who appeared before it for questioning and sent them for analysis. Actors Ravi Teja, Charmme Kaur, Mumaith Khan, well-known director Puri Jagannadh and young actors Tarun Kumar and P Navadeep were among the prominent personalities who were questioned by the SIT. Cinematographer Shyam K Naidu, actors Subbaraju, Tanish, Nandu and Ravi Teja's driver Srinivas were also among those questioned. The SIT filed a chargesheet in eight out of the 12 cases. It, however, gave clean chit to the film personalities who were questioned as part of the investigation. Additionally, due to the delay in filing the chargesheets, most of the main accused in the case, including Calvin, were released on bail.
The Forum for Good Governance, a non-governmental organisation, had raised an objection at the time, stating that the investigation was being deliberately delayed due to the involvement of celebrities. In 2019, the NGO filed a series of applications under the Right to Information Act (RTI) to know the status of the probe and the action taken so far. It alleged that deliberate attempts were made to hush up the case. It said that while cases were registered against those who brought drugs to Hyderabad, no action was taken against the middlemen and consumers in the city.
The accused against whom cases were booked include Rafeal Alex Victor, a South African citizen and Puttakar Ranson Joseph, working in the film industry as a manager. Joseph was the manager of leading actor Kajal Aggarwal and was sacked after his arrest. The NGO alleged that no attempt was made to trace the customers of the accused.
The authorities had recovered 3,000 blots of Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD), 105 grams of MDMA (commonly known as ecstasy), 45 grams of cocaine and other narcotic and psychotropic substances from the accused.
With IANS inputs