Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister and Telugu Desam Party president N. Chandrababu Naidu is likely to be named as an accused in the third and last charge-sheet to be filed by the Telangana Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) in the 2015 cash-for-vote scam. If that happens, Naidu will be under pressure to quit as the state’s Chief Minister. His difficulties are compounded by the fact that his ex-ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party has also joined the chorus against him, along with YSR Congress. The 2015 cash-for-vote scam is about an alleged payment of Rs 50 lakh in cash to buy the vote of a nominated MLA in the MLC elections on 31 May 2015.
The case, which was dormant for over two-and-a-half years, resurfaced after Telangana Chief Minister and TRS president K. Chandrasekhar Rao held a review of its progress with top officials of the police and the ACB at his residence on 7 May. DGP Mahender Reddy, ACB DGP J. Purnachandra Rao, former ACB DGP A.K. Khan and Intelligence DGP Naveen Chand were present there.
The discussion was on including Naidu’s name in the third and last charge-sheet which would be submitted in the trial court in Hyderabad next week. This is based on a forensic laboratory report from the Telangana Forensic Laboratory and another forensic laboratory from Chandigarh.
The laboratory reports, according to sources in the ACB, have established that the voice in the audio tapes was that of Chandrababu Naidu. According to the audio tape recorded from the mobile phone of nominated MLA Elvis Stephenson on the night of 31 May 2015, CM Naidu told the lawmaker to take a decision (on supporting his TDP candidate for MLC elections) and confirmed that his men (TDP leaders) briefed him everything.
As the phone call from the AP CM came to Stephenson when another TDP MLA A. Revanth Reddy was present at the latter’s house with a cash bag of Rs 50 lakh, the ACB sleuths who were hiding inside, established that the money was sent by the CM to buy the nominated MLA’s vote for the TDP candidate.
The entire operation was manned and recorded in CCTV cameras by the ACB as Stephenson had tipped off the police about the offer he had got through some intermediaries, including a pastor, Jerusalem Mathaiah, who first informed him about the bribe offer. The ACB sleuths were in another room till Revanth Reddy unzipped the cash bag and took out the currency bundles. They then caught him red-handed.
However, in the charge-sheets, CM Naidu was not named as an accused as there was no clinical evidence to show that he could be named. The ACB officials waited for about eight months till they got the forensic reports which confirmed the voice of the AP CM. Even after the reports came, there was no progress in the case due to the changed political situation. By the end of 2015, the two CMs, KCR and Naidu, had ended their hostilities and turned friends and 12 out of the total 15 TDP MLAs had joined TRS and Revanth Reddy joined Congress. At one stage it was thought that the case might be sent to cold storage due to a lack of traction and monitoring at the highest level.
The political atmosphere in both Telangana and Andhra charged up early last week as KCR directed the officials to complete the case at the earliest. Officials later told The Sunday Guardian that the third and the last charge-sheet would be filed by 18 May and most probably the name of Andhra CM would be included as an accused.
Revanth Reddy is Accused no. 1 in the case and others who helped him contact Stephenson and some intermediaries including Mathaiah were mentioned as the other accused. Revanth Reddy, arrested on 31 May 2015, was sent to jail for four months and later he got bail from the High Court. Later, Mathaiah filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking permission to turn approver in the case.
The Supreme Court had issued notices to the ACB, calling for a counter to the plea. If Mathaiah’s petition is allowed, it might be disadvantageous to Naidu and Revanth Reddy. Mathaiah, on Monday, 7 May even called for a CBI probe into the case as it pertained to two states and two CMs. Sources in the ACB indicated that they might not oppose Mathaiah’s petition to turn approver.
Meanwhile, Revanth Reddy, who interacted with the media in Hyderabad on Tuesday, alleged that KCR revived the case against him under the influence of the BJP. “The BJP wants to target the Andhra CM for opposing the Prime Minister. KCR’s decision to file another charge-sheet is nothing but part of this game-plan to settle scores against Naidu and me,” said Revanth Reddy.