Congress leaders in spot over hobnobbing with conwomen

Thiruvananthapuram, July 7 (IANS) Two conwomen in Kerala appear to have shamed a large number of leaders of the Congress party in the state. Telephone call details and images show that the women had hobnobbed with the politicians, including ministers.

Fraudulent entrepreneur Saritha S. Nair and film personality Shalu Menon, both accused in what has come to be called the "solar scam" have caused Congress leaders to be publicly shamed, exposing the close links of the political leadership with scamsters.

Saritha S. Nair and her live-in partner Biju Radhakrishnan had launched a firm called Team Solar that collected large sums of money on the promise of delivering solar panels. The couple was arrested last month after several complaints were received from people who had given Team Solar money, but got nothing in return.

Shalu Menon, a dancer and TV actress, reportedly accompanied Biju Radhakrishnan when he visited a few prospective investors. She too was arrested Friday.

State Home Minister Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan also was in touch with the two conwomen.

Just as news spread that the home minister too was among Shalu Menon's guests at her housewarming function in Kottayam district, a telephone call list showed that Tourism Minister A.P. Anil Kumar and Revenue Minister Adoor Prakash had contacted Saritha Nair.

Congress legislator and former minister K.B. Ganesh Kumar and union Minister of State for Civil Aviation K.C. Venugopal were also on the list of political leaders in touch with Saritha Nair.

Union Minister of State for Labour and Employment Kodikunnil Suresh had been in touch with Shalu Menon.

All the ministers said they could hardly be expected to screen all calls, and that they interacted freely with members of the public.

"Menon resides in my Lok Sabha constituency and I have already said that I have been to her home for her house warming. Because she is a voter from my constituency, it's natural I would go to her home," Suresh said.

Meanwhile, there are suggestions that telephone call details are being leaked rather copiously to the media on account of the factionalism in the party, and the rivalry between Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and state Congress chief Ramesh Chennithala.

Chandy has ordered an investigation by the state intelligence chief into the fraud. Rival factions now blame each other for the leaks.

K. Muraleedharan, who has now joined hands with the Chennithala faction, told reporters Saturday that it was a shame to see Menon taken by the police into custody, and still travelling like a VIP in her own car.

"An investigation should be conducted into why the Congress ministers spoke in the middle of the night to Nair. I'm sure the conversation was not about the party constitution," said Muraleedharan, tongue in cheek.

Former home minister and CPI-M member Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said: "Chandy and his team of swindlers had close ties with scamsters. Is that not the bigger shame than the leaks to the media?"

Chandy's personal staff member Tenny Jopan is behind bars in this case. Two other staff members were sacked after the case came to light for being in regular contact with Saritha Nair.

The Left opposition, since the June 3 arrest of Nair, has cried hoarse, seeking that Chandy quit office and face a probe.

As the state assembly resumes its sitting Monday, this issue, which caused the suspension of the assembly for two weeks after the opposition raised a ruckus, is likely to take centre stage again.

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