The Enforcement Directorate (ED), probing the money-laundering case against Bineesh Kodiyeri, son of Kerala CPI (M) secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan moved the Supreme Court asking them to cancel Bineesh’s bail. The money laundering case came to light following a drug seizure in Bengaluru in late August 2020.
The ED deputy director in Bengaluru said in his plea that the agency has enough strong evidence against Bineesh and that he was also trying to influence witnesses in the case. Bineesh was arrested in November 2020 and was released on bail by the Karnataka High Court in October 2021, after spending a year in Parappana Agrahara Jail, Bengaluru. Bineesh is the fourth accused in the money laundering case, and the ED informed the Supreme Court that his bail had weakened the ongoing investigation.
The drug case surfaced in August 2020 after the arrest of Anoop Mohammad, Rijesh Raveendran, and a Kannada TV series actress Anikha Dinesh from Bengaluru by the Karnataka Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB). Mohammad had 145 ecstasy tablets and 2.2 lakh rupees when officers arrested him from a service apartment where he lived.
Officials then seized 96 ecstasy pills and 180 LSD blots from an apartment where Raveendran was staying. Mohammad also revealed the identity of Anikha, and NCB officers confiscated 270 ecstasy pills from her apartment. Anikha shared that apartment with her husband, who is a foreign national. Officers said that the total value of drugs seized was around 20 lakh Rupees.
By mid-October, Mohammad informed the NCB that he was a Benami of Bineesh Kodiyeri. Financial investigations were handed over to the ED. Mohammad confessed that they used a restaurant as a cover for running their drug trade. He said Bineesh had ‘loaned’ him 3.5 crores as an investment in the drug business.
Bineesh was summoned to the ED office in early October 2020 and asked for the source of funds. Bineesh said that he had invested just six lakhs but, when confronted with electronic evidence that showed deposits into Mohammad’s bank accounts, changed it to 50 lakhs. Bineesh said that it was an investment in Mohammad’s restaurant business and denied knowledge of drug running.
ED charged Bineesh with suspected tax evasion. Though he admitted to financial dealings with Mohammad, Bineesh refused to cooperate with the officers. In the end, the ED informed the court and arrested Bineesh for interrogation.
Witnesses, meanwhile, deposed that they had seen Bineesh attend rave parties at Mohammad’s place in Bengaluru and that Mohammed is a close and old confidante of Bineesh. An ED raid at Bineesh’s Thiruvanathapuram residence (that he shares with his parents) led to the confiscation of ATM cards in the name of Anoop Mohammad but bore the signature of Bineesh. Other documents revealed that Bineesh was the director of several financial and forex companies that existed only on paper.
Bineesh tried to argue that the investment in Mohammad’s business came from his revenues from movies and business but failed to offer any proof. How did a mediocre small-time actor and cricket player like Bineesh earn crores?
Both Mohammad and Bineesh also had links with another accused, KT Rameez. Rameez is a person of interest for various central agencies for his role in the gold smuggling scandal using the diplomatic route that rocked Kerala (that case reached the chief minister’s office). It also emerged that Mohammed had arranged a haven for Swapna Suresh (accused in the gold smuggling scam) while she was on the run from the authorities. Mohammad allegedly did this at the behest of Bineesh.
Swapna went into hiding following the confiscation of 30 kilos of gold valued at 15 crores at Thiruvananthapuram airport, allegedly smuggled in by Swapna and her accomplices. Bineesh, Mohammed, and Swapna exchanged phone calls and messages starting from July 1, 2020 when the gold was withheld at the airport. These interactions continued till July 12, 2020 when the NIA arrested Swapna and her accomplices from Bengaluru.
What our Apex court decides remains to be seen. Recent history shows that amounts like 3.5 crores or even alleged misappropriation of 10-12 crores are not ‘that big.’ The Prevention of Money Laundering Act that Bineesh has been charged with anyway carries a maximum of just three years if convicted.