In a massive operation involving around 1,800 officials, the Income Tax Department on Thursday conducted raids at the premises of, among others, close relatives of jailed AIADMK leader V.K. Sasikala and her nephew T.T.V. Dinakaran across Tamil Nadu and the neighbouring states.
Those raided in one of the biggest operations in a single day by officials comprising 10 teams across Tamil Nadu -- including state capital Chennai -- Bengaluru in Karnataka, Hyderabad, Delhi, and other places from 6 a.m. onwards included not only AIADMK leaders' close relatives, but also business houses and other associates, a tax official who did not wanted to be identified told IANS.
The senior official said the searches were conducted in connection with unexplained routing of cash post-demonetisation through shell companies allegedly connected to Sasikala and Dinakaran.
He said the Income Tax department will look at the routing of funds within India whereas other agencies will look into the routing of money outside India.
The places raided included the residence of M. Natarajan, Sasikala's husband, in Thanjavur, Kodanad Tea Estate belonging to late Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa, Jazz Cinemas, Midas Distilleries, Sharada Paper and Boards, Senthil Group of Companies, Nilgiri Furniture in Coimbatore, Jaya TV, Namadhu MGR and several other premises in Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Hyderabad and Bengaluru.
The operation was kept secret, so much so that the raiding tax officials hired private cabs and had pasted wedding stickers on the windscreens of vehicles involved in the operation so as not to arouse suspicion.
Dinakaran dubbed the raids "politically motivated" and said he will not be frightened by such actions of the Centre, adding that the officials knocked at their door when his wife was preparing for cow 'puja'.
"Even if I am arrested and jailed for 20 years, I will come out and serve the state at the age of 74," he remarked.
Jaya TV, a satellite channel, and Namadhu MGR Tamil daily, a mouthpiece of the AIADMK, are now under the management control of the Sasikala faction.
Prior to Jayalalithaa's death, both showcased the achievements of the AIADMK and the state. However, after the party broke into factions led by Chief Minister K. Palaniswami, former Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam (who later became Deputy Chief Minister after merging his faction with Palaniswami's), and Sasikala and Dinakaran, they promoted only the Sasikala-Dinakaran faction.
Panneerselvam, after becoming the Deputy Chief Minister, demanded the takeover of the two media outlets by the ruling faction.
A lawyer for Jaya TV charged officials of threatening the channel's staff to shut down transmission which he said was tantamount to "curbing the freedom of speech and expression".
Dinakaran's supporter Nanjil Sampath said the raids were not surprising since the ruling faction wanted to take over Jaya TV and Namadhu MGR "owned by private companies".
DMK Working President M.K. Stalin said there were no answers to questions raised on earlier tax raids on AIADMK leaders and other organisations.
Tamil Maanila Congress President G.K. Vasan demanded that the Centre and the Income Tax Department explain the truth behind the raids and said the action should not be for political reasons or some hidden agenda.
Rajya Sabha MP R. Vaithilingam, belonging to the ruling AIADMK faction, said the raids had nothing to do with the party symbol case pending with the Election Commission for adjudication.
Both Sasikala-Dinakaran and Palaniswami-Panneerselvam factions are claiming the 'two leaves' election symbol as also the party name.
Bharatiya Janata Party's Tamil Nadu leader Tamilisai Soundararajan denied her party's role in Thursday's raids and said the operation was a result of "information on tax evasion".