The bi-weekly Tamil magazine Junior Vikatan, a whistleblower and a Tamil YouTuber have been booked for extortion and intimidation by the Chennai police on the basis of a complaint filed by G Square Realtors, a leading infrastructure company in the state. The complaint was filed after the magazine published an article alleging the company was receiving favours due to its proximity to those associated with the ruling party, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK). The Vikatan magazine has called the criminal case an attempt to muzzle the media and says that such an extortion attempt never happened.
Prime among the accused is a man identified as Kevin, who allegedly demanded Rs 50 lakh on behalf of the magazine. The complaint also claims that Kevin sent a photo of the story to the company before it was published and demanded money to hold it back. Kevin was arrested by Mylapore police in the early hours of May 22 morning and has been remanded to judicial custody.
The complaint was filed by Purushotham Kumar on behalf of G Square Realtors Private Limited and its founder and Managing Director Ramajayam. The complaint claimed that Ramajayam received a phone call from Kevin on January 18, 2022. In that call, Kevin allegedly claimed that he was a close associate of Vikatan Group's Directors. Vikatan has, however, denied any ties with Kevin and maintains that when the real estate company first sent them a defamation notice, they had asked for Kevin's details, but received no response.
Former Vigilance department employee-turned-activist Savukku Shankar, and YouTuber Maridhas, have also been named in the FIR. The complainant alleged that Kevin threatened that if he fails to pay, he would make these social media influencers write defamatory statements about the company.
Purushotham claimed in the complaint that Junior Vikatan has been "continuously, intentionally and deliberately publishing false, baseless, defamatory articles about our company and our group's founder cum Managing Director Ramajayam Bala".
Kevin then allegedly went on to threaten that "articles will begin appearing in the Junior Vikatan, and would damage and defame Ramajayam and the company" unless the money was paid "through him to the directors of Vikatan group of companies".
However, Purushotham says that the money was not paid, following which the article was published on January 23, 2022. The story went on to allege that the company had ties with the DMK and that various government officials helped them operate smoothly.
On March 3, 2022, G Square Realtors issued a legal notice to the directors of Vikatan Group of companies and the editor and reporters of 'Junior Vikatan' magazine, according to the complainant. Purushotham also cites a video posted by Maridhas on May 15, 2022, "containing malicious and slanderous baseless allegations".
Based on his complaint an FIR was registered under sections 147 (punishment for rioting), 294(b) (obscene acts and songs),120(B) (punishment for criminal conspiracy), 384 (punishment for extortion), 506(ii) (punishment for criminal intimidation) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
Meanwhile, speaking to TNM, legal counsel of Vikatan group of companies N Ramesh said that Kevin was not connected to the publication. He said, "We had issued a preliminary reply to a legal notice issued by G-Square in February asking for the details of Mr Kevin, so that we can proceed legally against him. However, we have not received any response from G-Square. Now a false complaint has been lodged against Vikatan group and the MD and other directors who have nothing to do with the editorial have been named in the FIR.”
He also said, “Junior Vikatan is a bi-weekly magazine and is available in shops every Wednesday and Saturday. For an issue to be released on Wednesday, editorial content will be completed and the forms will be sent to print on Monday evening and the printed issue will be ready on Tuesday morning and will be sent to distributors on Tuesday. Therefore, the allegation that a person named Kevin, called on Tuesday night (18.1.2022) to stop the printing of an article is a false and imaginary story used to lodge a fraudulent complaint against us. This is an assault on press freedom by a state machinery on the guise of a false complaint."
Reacting to the case, Savukku Shankar told TNM, “This case appears to be registered with an intention to silence anyone who speaks about G Square." Savukku also alleged that though the main crux of the complaint was that directors of the Vikatan group had entered into a conspiracy with Kevin, the police did not book them fearing backlash.
Chennai Press Club Joint Secretary Bharathi Thamizhan said, "Chennai police registering FIR against media houses and journalists based on a complaint by a real estate firm is unfortunate and highly condemnable. We did not expect this from the DMK government and we will not tolerate any attempts by the police to threaten the media," he said.