Kerala HC seeks status report on evidence tampering case against minister AntonyRaju

The Kerala high court on Friday admitted a petition that spotlighted the long delay in a trial against state transport minister Antony Raju in a 2005 case in which Raju is accused of tampering with evidence in a 1990 drug haul case.

A single judge bench of justice Ziyhad Rehman also sought a report from the chief judicial magistrate’s (CJM) court in Thiruvananthapuram district’s Nedumangadu on the status of the trial along with reasons for the delay. The high court will take up the petition, which seeks a high court-monitored trial, again after two weeks, justice Rehman said, rejecting the government pleader’s contention that the petitioner, George Vattakulam approached the court with some vested interests.

But the bench underlined that the petition contained facts and the three-decade delay was one such fact, a point that the pleader sought to counter saying there were many such cases pending in various courts.

The case against the minister dates to the 1990s, long before Antony Raju made a career switch from law to politics. In 1990, Raju was a junior lawyer, and one of several lawyers hired to represent an Australian citizen Andrew Salvatore Cervelli who was arrested on charges of smuggling 61.5gram hashish to India by concealing it in his innerwear.

The district court sentenced the Australian national to 10 years in jail in 1992. But the high court acquitted him in 1993 after Cervelli’s legal team demonstrated that the innerwear produced by the prosecution was too small for their client.

But the case took a dramatic turn in 1996 when Cervelli was arrested in connection with a murder case in Australia and told Australian agencies how his family bribed a court clerk and others in India to tamper with evidence and wriggle out of a drug case. The information was passed on to the Central Bureau of Investigation and the case was re-opened at the instance of the high court in 2002. But the police probe did not move forward till 2005 when TP Senkumar took over as the IG southern range in 2005.

The court clerk allegedly admitted to the police that he gave the innerwear to the Australian national’s legal team in August 1990, who returned it to him four months later. It is during this period that the inner wear is alleged to have been cut and re-stitched. According to the prosecution, the probe team identified Antony Raju as the junior lawyer who allegedly tampered with the evidence. Raju was then a junior lawyer practising in the district court and taking his initial steps in politics, as a youth leader of the Kerala Congress.

A forensic examination of the inner wear also confirmed the tampering and a case was registered against Raju and the court clerk. But the case dragged on due to many reasons including multiple appeals in higher courts. In 2013, a charge sheet was filed against Antony Raju and the court clerk. Court records show the case was deferred 22 times and later shifted to another court in Nedumangad in the same district.

The minister refused to comment on the new development. “Whatever I want to say I said it before. The case is sub judice,” he said in the state capital. In the past, Raju has said that he had no role in the delay in the trial and that his lawyer represented him every time the case came up in court.

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