Hyderabad: The Enforcement Directorate (ED) Wednesday raided the residence of Telangana Minister and Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) leader Gangula Kamalakar in connection with an illegal granite mining and money laundering probe.
The agency officials broke open the doors of Kamalakar’s residence while he was out of the country. Although the minister’s name is not formally associated with any company, his brothers Gangula Venkanna and Gangula Sudhakar run a granite mining company named Swetha Agencies (Swetha Granite Exports) in Karimnagar.
Kamalakar is an MLA from Karimnagar Assembly constituency in Telangana.
This is not the first time that Swetha Agencies has come under scanner. The ED had, in August 2021, issued notices to around nine granite companies from Karimnagar, including Swetha Agencies, for violating the Foreign Exchange Management (FEMA) Act, 1999.
The notices were issued after a complaint from Telangana BJP leader and advocate Betti Mahender Reddy who alleged that granite barons in Karimnagar were illegally exporting the rock and involved in money laundering. Reddy’s complaint also referred to a 2013 report by Andhra Pradesh’s vigilance department which said these companies evaded paying crores of rupees as seigniorage fee to the government.
Reddy had also said that the granite agencies owed about Rs 749.66 crore to the state government.
“This includes the Rs 125 crore (approx) mentioned in the vigilance report. And a five times penalty to it according to the Mining and Mineral Act norms and the balance is what they owe as a fund to the villages, where they’re mining, as per the same Act,” Reddy told ThePrint.
Another complaint against the granite traders of Karimnagar was filed by Telangana BJP chief Bandi Sanjay in 2019. Bandi had alleged that granite from Karimnagar was being illegally exported to other countries and the owners were involved in money laundering. The issue was also taken up before Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.
Kamalakar, who returned to Hyderabad from Dubai late Wednesday, has said he will fully cooperate with the investigations and that he had himself told the ED to break open the doors of his residence since he was out of town.
Also read: Cameras, voice recorders, ‘nariyal paani’ & ‘vitamin’ – How BJP ‘agents’ were trapped in Telangana
Raid comes after by-poll results
The latest raids came days after the BJP lost a high decibel by-poll battle to the ruling TRS in Munugode. In what was being considered as a semi-final to the Telangana Assembly polls in 2023, the TRS won the hotly contested poll with a thin margin, defeating their arch rival BJP.
This is also probably the first time that properties of a minister from Chief Minister K.Chandrasekhar Rao’s Cabinet were raided by the ED. The agency had, in 2021, raided TRS MP Nama Nageswara Rao’s house in connection with a Rs 1,064 crore fraud case.
Apart from the ED, several other government agencies have also set their focus on complaints of illegal granite mining in Karimnagar and how the companies have been involved in money laundering. The latest ED raids also stem from a Central Bureau of Investigation FIR that was filed to probe the irregularities.
Telangana BJP’s National Executive Member Perala Shekar Rao had complained about the same to the CBI, to the Pollution Control Board, Central Board of Direct Taxes, and to the Union Ministry of Environment last year.
“Several government agencies can take up the investigation at the same time. NGT is also looking into this matter probing the environment side violations. The situation might be the same in Karimnagar, Warangal and other areas in the state which are hubs for granite mining. We’ve focused on Karimnagar because there is a vigilance department report on the companies in Karimnagar,” Shekar Rao told ThePrint.
‘I asked ED to break open doors of my residence,’ says Kamalakar
Reacting to the issue, Kamalakar, who returned to Hyderabad late Wednesday, said that he would fully cooperate with the agency on investigation and he himself had asked the agency to break open the door, as the keys to his residence were with him.
“I have clarified this several times, we own granite quarries and have been in this industry for 31 years. A lot of people complained against us that we do illegal business. We’re open (to investigations) and facts should come out. The investigating agency checked everything in granite quarries, at company’s (other) owners’ residences, relatives involved with the company, even their residences were raided,” the minister said.
Kamalakar added: “I was in Dubai and on a video call with the ED team. I assisted them on all the lockers which were to be opened. I only asked them to break open the lock as the keys were with me,” he said.
He also said that he had gone to Dubai just 17 hours ago.
Also read: Stood up by Rahul Gandhi, Narasimha Rao’s son excuses Congress snub, cites ‘security reasons’