The court threw out the evidence tampering case against Kerala Minister Antony Raju, but a new trial is looming. (2023)

Kerala Transport Minister Antony Raju is still locked up in a 32-year-old case involving shrunken dark blue underwear.

Although the Kerala High Court last week dismissed the evidence tampering case against Raju on technical grounds, it is still too early for the minister to sigh with relief. The court ordered the "competent authority" to correct the procedural error in the complaint and move the case forward, setting the stage for a new trial.

How it all started

The case against Antony Raju and his current situation stems from an Australian citizen, Andrew Salvatore Cervelli, who bragged about a co-defendant's murder in Victoria in that country and bragged about how he escaped jail time in Kerala for hashish smuggling for the one who had bribed. people.

The co-defendant reported the conversation to Victoria Police, who alerted the Australian National Central Bureau (ANCB), which alerted its Indian counterpart, the CBI. The head office forwarded the information to the Kerala police. That was in 1996.

More than half a decade earlier, on April 4, 1990, Cervelli had been arrested at Trivandrum International Airport with 61.6 grams of the banned substance hidden in two pockets of his underwear. He was about to board an Indian Airlines flight to Mumbai.

The Australian was subsequently booked under the Narcotic and Psychotropic Substances Act 1985.

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Cervelli trial and Antony Raju trial

Antony Raju, then a young man working for the lawyer Selin Wilfred, represented the defendant in court. Meanwhile, Cervelli's relatives also arrived in the state capital, Thiruvananthapuram.

On 2 August 1990, the expedited court found Cervelli guilty and sentenced him to 10 years of severe imprisonment and a fine of 1 lakh.

The clothing in which he smuggled hashish was among the evidence presented in court.

Shortly thereafter, Cervelli moved to the higher court and challenged the lower court's verdict.

In his appeal, he asked the court to review the physical evidence presented at first instance, in particular the underwear.

When the underwear was examined, it was found to be too small for the muscular Australian and lacked pockets to store the narcotic.

A practical trial was also held, which confirmed that the garment did not fit the defendant properly.

The prosecutor's case failed. The court acquitted Cervelli on February 5, 1991. In the first week of March, he took a Qantas flight home "without proper departure details", the ANCB told Indian authorities.

Suspicion of the supreme court and a new case

In acquitting Cervelli, the court suspected a strong possibility that the underwear "had been implanted to escape the situation" and suggested an investigation.

The court surveillance officer conducted an investigation and submitted a report emphasizing the need for a detailed investigation. The smuggling investigator also approached the Supreme Court to open an investigation.

Later, in 1994, a case of evidence tampering was registered by the Vanchiyoor police in Thiruvananthapuram.

Two years later, a month before the 1996 general election, an indictment was filed.

It was the year Antony Raju contested and won the election in Thiruvananthapuram West in a Kerala (J) congressional map with LDF support.

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Underpants and the indictment against Antony Raju

The charge sheet, which was submitted to the First Class Magistrates Judicial Court in Nedumangad, some 16 km from the city of Thiruvananthapuram, named an official of the court of sessions, KV Jose, as the first defendant and Raju as the second. .

He alleged that Raju had applied to the hearing court on behalf of the Australian for the release of his personal belongings.

On August 9, 1990, after receiving a favorable court order, the first defendant, Jose, delivered Antony Raju the items, including underwear, crucial physical evidence, from which the contraband was seized.

On 5 December 1990, Antony Raju reportedly returned the underwear, which was remanded to the session court.

The court of hearings did not carry out a practical trial in underwear before sentencing Cervelli. Antony Raju is said to have changed his underwear before returning it.

Jose and Raju were charged with fraud (Section 420), conspiracy (Section 120-B), dishonest transfer of property/causing the disappearance of evidence of a criminal offense (Section 201), and threatening to harm someone in order to make them refrain from seek protection from a public official (Section 190) and from a public official who violates a rule of law to save a person from punishment or property from confiscation (Section 217) of the Indian Penal Code.

Supreme annuls process

As the case progressed, social activist George Vattukulam approached the Supreme Court and requested an expedited trial.

Antony Raju also sued the High Court, seeking an injunction to set aside other lawsuits in the underwear case. He argued that the case should be dismissed because the police searched it directly, despite the fact that the rules require a formal complaint by the court or judicial officer.

On Friday, March 10, the Kerala High Court dismissed the criminal case against the minister on technical grounds.

However, the Single Chamber of Judge Ziyad Rahman clarified in the order that "this would not prevent the relevant authority or court in question from seizing the matter and proceeding in accordance with the procedure set out in section 195(1)(b) of continuing with the procedures provided by the CrPC”.

The judge also noted that the charges against Raju included undermining the functions of the judiciary and polluting the justice mechanism.

The judge, while acknowledging Raju's lawyer's claims that the ongoing investigation had failed to follow due process, ordered a new trial to ensure a fair retrial of the case.

Stage prepared for the resumption

The stage is now set to correct procedural errors and restart the process that would start in a few weeks.

According to information received, the High Court Registry has ordered the Thiruvananthapuram District Court to file a new lawsuit against Antony Raju and the former judicial officer who allegedly helped him exchange evidence.

The district court can refer the complaint against Raju to the competent court in Nedumangad for further prosecution.

The delay in deciding the evidence tampering case has been a hot topic of discussion in legal circles.

Before the High Court, Raju's lawyer applied for the case to be dismissed under article 195 of the CRPC, provided that only the competent court or an official appointed by it could file complaints for crimes committed before the court.

The Supreme Court ordered the registry to reopen the process.

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What's next in the underwear case against Antony Raju?

According to legal experts, the lower court will summon the defendant and facilitate the process once the district court or designated bailiff files a new lawsuit.

Significantly, the case will not be investigated further and prosecutions will be based on the evidence and documents collected thus far.

Although Antony Raju welcomed the Supreme Court throwing out the underwear case, he remained silent on the procedural correctness order and the new trial.

Despite repeated attemptssouth first, the minister's office declined to comment on whether further developments in the case would attract public attention in the coming days, further damaging the reputation of Pinarayi Vijayan's government.

Two crimes, says the former judge

“The case shows two types of violations. The first is very serious: misleading a court by manipulating evidence. The other is undue delay in conducting the trial,” said (ret.) Judge B. Kemal Pasha of the Kerala High Court.south first.

“Antony Raju's influence as a powerful lawyer, politician and administrator may have caused both. He has avoided trial and concealed the details of the case for all these years while he was serving as a cabinet minister,” he said.

"Raju and the ruling front must consider the legal, constitutional and moral fitness of such a person to hold high public office," Judge Pasha added.

But now that procedural flaws are being cleared up and opposition parties say the minister has no moral right to stay in office, uncomfortable days are likely ahead for Raju and the LDF government in Kerala.

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