Lottery king Santiago Martin case turns murky with aide’s death

Image: Prathap Ravishankar

The death of T Palanisami, aide of ‘lottery king’ Santiago Martin, on May 3 has added a fresh twist to a long story.

The autopsy report is not out yet. Palanisami, Martin’s employee for over 25 years, was a cashier at Future Gaming and Hotel Service Private Ltd, the former’s company. He was also handling the accounts at a private college owned by Martin.

I-T sleuths picked up Palanisami for interrogation on Wednesday even as an I-T raid was in progress on 70 premises owned by Martin. Palanisami was picked up from Coimbatore.

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The police have booked unnamed I-T sleuths on charges of abetment to suicide.

On the second day of interrogation (May 2), I-T sleuths said they found blood stains on Palaniswamy’s hands. His family said he would have attempted suicide by slitting the wrist. They said he was treated at a hospital in GN Mills in Coimbatore.

The police said he did not appear before I-T sleuths on Friday. He  was found dead in a pond, near Karamadai, on the outskirts of Coimbatore.

Initially, the police had registered a case of suspicious death and are awaiting the autopsy report, sources said.

“We will get an autopsy report in two to three days,” Coimbatore SP Sujith Kumar said adding that they would take a call only after the cause of the death is known.

Palanisami’s son told the media that his father was assaulted by I-T sleuths during interrogation. “The inquiry started at 4 pm on Wednesday and continued till 3 am the next morning. They did not even allow my father to have food and also abused him,” Palanisami’s son Rohit said.

When the body was recovered, it had a lungi on it. “My father went to the office wearing a shirt and trousers. But he was found dead wearing a lungi,” Rohit said.

Based on a complaint from Rohit, the Coimbatore rural police registered an abetment case against the I-T sleuths. The I-T raids were suspended in Coimbatore.

Sources in I-T said Palanisami was assaulted by an investigating officer from Madurai.

Martin’s wife, Leema Rose, has issued a statement seeking a proper investigation into the death of Palanisami.

The I-T sleuths began raiding 70 premises of Martin on Tuesday. As many as 22 premises of Martin were raided in Coimbatore alone.

According to I-T sleuths, the Martin group admitted an unaccounted income of Rs 595 crore received from lottery stockists for manipulation of prize-winning lottery tickets. When the accounts of some Rs 619 were reconciled, the person designated to handle the accounts in the group admitted to this figure,” they said. I-T sleuths seized about Rs 5.8 crore of unaccounted cash out of a total of Rs 8.25 crore detected.

Who is Santiago Martin?

Santiago Martin was a labourer in Myanmar and entered the two-digit lottery business in 1988 with the Martin Lottery Agency Ltd in Coimbatore.

He expanded his business to neighbouring states, Kerala and Karnataka. Subsequently, he also went on to make a mark in Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Meghalaya, Punjab and Maharashtra.

In Tamil Nadu, he was seen as having links with the DMK. He produced a Tamil film, “Ilaignan” based on a story written by DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi in 2011.

After lottery was banned in Tamil Nadu in 2003, he moved the larger part of his lottery business to Karnataka and Kerala. He was at the forefront of the lottery operations in Karnataka and Kerala until 2007.

After the CID police in Karnataka busted an illegal lottery racket in that state, the Kerala government started cracking down on illegal lottery. Martin was charge-sheeted in these cases. According to multiple reports, the CBI had charge sheeted Santiago Martin in several lottery scams causing a loss of about Rs 4,500 crore to the Sikkim government alone.

In Tamil Nadu, after the AIADMK led by J Jayalalithaa came to power in 2011, Martin was one among the people who faced land-grab cases. He faced cheating cases filed on him for running illegal lottery in the state. He was detained under the Goondas Act. In Kerala, he is facing about 32 cases of lottery fraud.

Martin started to distance himself from the DMK during the AIADMK regime. He distanced himself from the party. His wife Leema Rose filed a complaint with the Coimbatore police against DMK cadres in Bengaluru in 2012.

 

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