A 13-year-old sex scandal has resurfaced to rock politics in Kerala three months ahead of the Assembly elections.
At the centre is P K Kunhalikutty, general secretary of the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), the second strongest party in the United Democratic Front (UDF) and the Congress’s key ally in North Kerala. He had been accused of sexually abusing a minor girl who, however, withdrew the allegation later.
The other key figure in the controversy is Kunhalikutty’s brother-in-law K A Rauf, who had allegedly helped cover up the scandal when it broke but who has since fallen out with the leader and who now says he did pay bribes to help protect him.
A fresh twist has come in the form of a TV sting operation: a former additional director-general of prosecution is shown accusing two former Kerala High Court judges of being bribed by Kunhalikutty.
In 1997, a woman approached Anweshi, a counselling centre in Kozhikode run by former Naxal K Ajitha, to complain about a thriving flesh racket that was using an ice-cream parlour as a front. Subsequent police investigations revealed that the racket involved several women, including minors, with politicians, bureaucrats, businessmen and lawyers as their clients. The police named as accused 16 people, including parlour owner Sreedevi and Kunhalikutty’s driver Aravinthakshan. The cops, in turn, were widely accused of covering up the involvement of many others such as Kunhalikutty.
The case went through various stages before a district court acquitted all the accused. Anweshi appealed in 2007, the High Court upheld the acquittal, and since then the case was believed closed, till it resurfaced because of two reasons.
On Friday, Kunhalikutty said he was facing death threats from his brother-in-law. “Rauf is trying to blackmail me by using a forged video CD,” he said.
On Sunday, Malayalam channel Indiavision, whose chairman is M K Muneer, Kunhalikutty’s rival in the party, aired the sting. It showed K C Peter, former additional director-general of prosecution, saying that Kerala High Court judges K Narayana Kurup and K Thankappan had been bribed to rule in favour of Kunhalikutty.
2004: The prime witness told the media that Kunhalikutty had abused her while she had been a minor. Her initial court statement had not indicted the leader but she now said she was ready to change it. It was Rauf who reportedly went into damage control. He allegedly built a house for the girl and paid victims and witnesses not to depose against Kunahalikutty, then Industries Minister. The girl changed her version again, making no charge against Kunhalikutty.
2010: Income Tax raided Rauf’s premises and found an unaccounted amount of Rs 15 crore, as well as forged government papers for the purchase of 300 acres in Sindhudurg district, Maharashtra. Besides, one of his aides was arrested on charges of carrying fake Indian currency, minted in Pakistan.
2011: Kunhalikutty has now said, “As a minister, I went out of my way and did a lot for Rauf. Enough is enough. I can’t be responsible for all the dirty dealings of Rauf, who has links with anti-national forces.”
Rauf has hit back: “I will reveal more evidence about Kunhalikutty’s involvement in the sex racket. I can bring in a busload of victims of his sexual abuse. He pumped in crores of rupees to influence the case. Money went into the hands of witnesses, judges and police officials. I paid some of it.”
Kunhalikutty, in turn, has dared Rauf to produce fresh evidence, yet he is wary: “The new evidence he claims he will produce will have been forged.”
STING & JUDGES
1998: Judge Kurup rejected a public interest litigation that had sought a CBI investigation.
2007: Judge Thankappan rejected a revision petition by Anweshi challenging the acquittal of the 16 accused, A government petition too was rejected.sting: Peter is shown as saying, “Kurup is my friend. He wants liquor and money. Because of my long-term acquaintance with Kurup, I used to go to his house. It was Kurup’s son-in law who took the money.” About Thankappan, Peter shown as saying that Rauf had approached the judge at his (Peter’s) advice.
Denial: Both judges have denied the charges. Kurup has said, “Peter was my friend. He came to my house several times. But there was no transaction over the ice-cream parlour sex racket case. The involvement of an influential politician does not mean that the case should be probed by the CBI.”
The IUML has stood behind Kunhalikutty. Party president and Union minister E Ahammed said, “The party sees a clear political motive in raking up the case now. The person (Rauf) behind the latest controversy is a fraud.”
Even Muneer of Indiavision has delinked himself from his channel’s sting, saying: “I don’t believe the report that judges had been bribed to save Kunhalikutty. I was not aware about the sting planned by the channel’s journalists. I stand by the party.”
About Muneer, Rauf has said, “I had been used as a tool to destroy Muneer. It was Kunhalikkutty who furnished details for a vigilance probe against Muneer, former PWD Minister.”
The scandal had proved costly in 2006, with Kunhalikkutty thrown out by a rebel and the IUML suffering its worst defeat. But the party still holds the key to Muslim votes and the Congress has stood by Kunhalikutty. Congress state president Ramesh Chennithala said certain forces are targeting the IUML because elections are round the corner.
The CPM too is in a difficult situation with Rauf alleging that P Sasi, political secretary to then Chief Minister E K Nayanar, had helped Kunhalikkutty escape. follow-up
Based on Rauf’s statements, the Kozhikode city police have registered a case of criminal conspiracy, forgery and misuse of public office for private gains.
Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan has sought a probe by a panel of Supreme Court judges into the allegations against the two retired judges.
The CPM’s Pinarayi Vijayan said it is up to the judiciary to find out the truth about the allegations made against it.