Is Lottery King Santiago Martin funding TMC’s national expansion?

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Santiago Martin, also known as ‘Lottery King’ Martin, the owner of Future Gaming and Hotel Services (P) Ltd) is a business tycoon hailing from Coimbatore who built his business empire by printing and distributing lottery tickets. Future Gaming now handles government paper lottery schemes for the northeast governments with a near-monopoly. With lotteries legal only in a handful of states, apart from Kerala, where the state government does not permit private distributors, West Bengal is the biggest market for the paper lottery business and for Martin.

A landless labourer originally from Myanmar, Coimbatore-based, Martin built his business empire distributing lottery tickets, initially in Tamil Nadu and then expanding Karnataka and Kerala. But in 2003, Martin had to take his business outside Tamil Nadu, as the Jayalalithaa government banned the sale of all lotteries, including online, within the territory of the state.

Now with a fast-changing changed political scenario at the national level and his fortune linked to North-East states, Martin appears to be backing Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress as per oblique references made by prominent Delhi-based journalist Rohini Singh on her Twitter handle. The Mamata Banerjee-headed party is looking at national expansion and targeting expansion in Meghalaya, Tripura, Goa as well as other Northern and Northern-Eastern states after its landslide third-term win in West Bengal earlier this year.

Future Gaming website prominently provides GST amounts paid to West Bengal. The company says it paid close to 12,000 crores in GST to date since 2017 to West Bengal alone. “Future Gaming is one of the prompt taxpayers in the country. By paying huge taxes on time, every time, its contribution towards building a stronger nation is commendable,” reads a statement on the website.

Just before the 2021 assembly elections, Future Gaming has donated INR 100 crores to the Prudent Electoral Trust which donated INR 209 crores to BJP out of a total corpus of INR 245 crores. Interestingly, TMC does not feature in the list submitted by Prudent to the election commission.

Known to side with those in power:

After the 2003 ban of lotteries in Tamil Nadu, Martin shifted his focus to Bhutan and Nepal, where he is reportedly the exclusive distributor of lottery tickets. He once produced a Kollywood movie Ilaignan with DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi as a scriptwriter. Operating a heavily regulated business, he is known to side with parties in power.

In 2010, Tamil Nadu Advocate General PS Raman appeared for Martin in Kerala High Court creating a political rift. Kerala government argued that the appearance of one state’s Advocate General before a different High Court in a case that is unrelated to his state is improper.

In another case, he hired current Congress Rajya Sabha MP and senior advocate Dr. Abhishek Manu Singhvi to argue a case that created a political storm between ruling LDF and opposition UDF in Kerala. Later Singhvi withdrew from the case. 

A few years later, Martin hired MK Damodaran, a senior advocate who was acting as legal adviser to the Kerala CM and CPI(M) leader Pinarayi Vijayan. The businessman once donated INR 2 crore to Deshabhimani, the CPI(M) mouthpiece. 

When AIADMK came to power in 2011, several DMK leaders and sympathizers were booked for fraud and land grabbing cases including Martin. As Martin was in jail, Leema Rose Martin, his wife, filed a case against DMK patriarch’s daughter Selvi in 2012, alleging that a lottery agent close to Selvi framed Martin in a fake case. This was termed as a strategic move to please the AIDMK supremo.

They are trying to extort Rs 2 crore from our family and are constantly threatening us over the phone,” Rose alleged against Selvi in 2012 as per media reports. Martin spent 7 months in judicial custody in 14 cases registered in various police stations across Tamil Nadu.

His wife went on to become the Vice General Secretary of the SRM-founder headed Indhiya Jananayaga Katchi (IJK), a political party. In the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, she shared the stage with the then prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi. In the presence of the National General Secretary of the party, Ram Madhav, Martin’s son Charles Jose Martin joined the BJP in 2015.

It remains to be seen how the BJP-led central government as well Congress and other opposition parties react to Martin’s aggressive push to fund the TMC’s national expansion.