I am not sure how many people have heard about Santiago Martin. He is 55-year-old Coimbatore-based lottery agent earning more money every day than new economy czar N R Narayana Murthy or old economy titan Dhirubhai Ambani.
Every day, Martin sells -- through his Martin Lottery Agencies -- some 12 million lottery tickets across the country. He is the sole distributor for 28 Sikkim government lottery schemes, 17 Tamil Nadu schemes and six Arunachal Pradesh schemes.
He is the sub-distributor for the Bhutan government lotteries as also for many state governments like Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland and West Bengal.
So far, so good. The only worm in the apple is an on-going investigation of Martin and his company by the income tax department.
The charges listed against Martin include:
His company bribed officials of state governments like Sikkim to ensure that prizes are announced on unsold tickets. Rules stipulate that the unsold tickets should be returned to state government lottery departments. But agencies like the MLA do not return tickets. The result: millions of rupees are won by the agent himself.
In June 1997, Martin's son Charles won Rs 5 million on the Azad Hind Bumper Lottery run by the Nagaland government. Martin claims his son had bought that particular ticket. But IT officials allege the draw was cleverly fixed with the connivance of officials.
In April 2000, the 10 fourth prize winning digits of the Sikkim Yellow Weekly and the Bhutan Kalpataru Lottery -- the two most popular lotteries distributed by MLA -- were identical. Officials say it is a clear example of how lottery draws are regularly rigged.
The home ministry has obtained a number of documents that detail the business links between Martin and Moni Kumar Subha, the Congress member of Parliament from Tezpur in Assam. Subha is Nagaland's lottery king. Officials allege the duo have joined hands to fix all the lotteries in the northeastern states.
Last heard,Santiago Martin was in the hiding for several months and the police are in search of him nationwide.
With all these allegations, you would expect "self righteous" parties like CPM to keep away from them especially since V S Achuthanandan had waged many a war against the lottery mafia when he was Opposition leader. V.S.Achuthanandan had alleged collusion between the online lottery tycoons including Santiago Martin during the last UDF ministry, on the ground that apart from doing fraud and snatching off an amount at the rate of Rs 30 crores per day on account of the outside lotteries, they were evading tax to the tune of Rs 9,000 crores in tacit understanding with the UDF government. He promised that once LDF government came to power, this money would be recovered and all the foul plays stopped. Moreover, LDF State finance minister TM Thomas Isaac disclosed in the Assembly that Rs 8760 crores lottery tax dues were yet to be recovered and 80 percent of that amount was from Santiago Martin!
And what was happening under LDF ministry? As always CPM actions didnot match Words. The CPM organ Deshabhimani collected Rs 2 crore worth of bonds from Santiago Martin. The expose was made by the leading Malayalam daily Mathrubhumi with copies of the bond certificates issued in the names of Martin’s two sons. The advocate who used to appear on behalf of the lottery mafia in chains of cases, suddenly became the Government Pleader under LDF and started representing prosecution.
The newspaper’s general manager E PJayarajan(of Pinarayi Vijayan Faction) claimed in a clarification that there was nothing new in newspapers issuing bonds for collecting funds. Like others, Deshabhimani used to collect development funds through deposits and bonds from regular advertisers during funds crunch.
However, in a u-turn next day, Mr Jayarajan swallowed what he said and stated that Deshabhimani had taken no funds as bonds and that “funds used to be collected as advances from advertisers and adjusted later in advertisements’’.
CPM hit back by launching a blistering attack on Mathrubhumi both inside the assembly when the Opposition raised the scandal and also outside. Party MLA P Jayarajan said in the assembly
“Mathrubhumi is a yellow paper since it publishes baseless charges without sense or direction,’’ .