x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Indian judge queries 'tainted' anti-corruption chief

India's Supreme Court chief justice has questioned the appointment of a man, once charged by police over an alleged palm oil scam, as a top new anti-corruption official.

NEW DELHI // India's Supreme Court raised doubts on Monday about the appointment of a new top anti-corruption official, heaping more pressure on the government as it battles multiple graft scandals.

P.J. Thomas was sworn in as the new Central Vigilance Commissioner in September amid protests from the opposition, which claimed at the time that he was a tainted figure.

Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia questioned the nomination of a man who was charged by police over his role in an alleged palm oil import scam in his native state of Kerala, during a legal challenge to Thomas's appointment.

"When he works as the CVC (Central Vigilance Commissioner) he will deal with corruption matters. There will be an allegation against him every time. How will he function?" Kapadia said.

"In every matter he deals with, he will face embarrassment and under these circumstances we want to know if he will be able to function as CVC."

Police charged Thomas in 2000 over his role in allegedly fraudulent imports of palm oil from Malaysia while he worked as a secretary in the Kerala state government in the 1990s. He has not been prosecuted.

India's newspapers have been filled with lurid corruption stories for months, firstly with the Delhi Commonwealth Games in October and more recently over a giant telecom scam that could be the most costly in Indian history.

Telecom Minister A. Raja resigned last week amid outrage over the botched sale of 2G telecom spectrum for mobile phone services in 2007, which the state auditor estimated might have cost the treasury up to $40 billion.

Thomas was a senior civil servant in Raja's ministry and the opposition alleged at the time of his appointment that he was named to go soft with any inquiry.

The opposition led by the Bharatiya Janata Party have called for a cross-party investigation into the scam and have blocked the functioning of parliament for the last week.

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee called an all-party meeting on Monday to try to resolve the deadlock.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a 78-year-old former economist with a reputation as "Mr Clean," has been dragged into the scandal after the Supreme Court asked him to explain why Raja had not been prosecuted.