While noose is tightening around jailed former Dy CM Sisodia, with the CBI filing a second chargesheet against him, the controversy has now embroiled the AAP supremo Kejriwal too who has been called for questioning by the agency in the case, writes Aayush Goel
TheLiquorgate controversy continues to brew further as Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has now filed a second chargesheet against the jailed Aam Aadmi Party leader, Manish Sisodia and three others alleging that jailed former deputy CM of Delhi “misused” his position and fraudulently introduced changes in the liquor policy to monopolize the wholesale and retail liquor trade in Delhi. Sisodia was arrested on February 26 after almost eight hours of interrogation.
The agency has charged Sisodia, Arjun Pandey (an alleged middleman), Butchi Babu Gorantla, former auditor of K Kavitha, daughter of Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao and Amandeep Singh Dhall (director of Brindco Sales Pvt Ltd) under sections 420 (cheating), 120B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and sections 7, 7A, 8 and 12 of Prevention of Corruption Act (which deal with paying and receiving of bribes to/by public servant).
Besides, the agency has added the “destruction of evidence” charge under section 201 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) as the investigation has revealed that Sisodia had destroyed his phones. The controversy has now also embroiled the party supremo Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal who was also called for questioning in this case.
The move left the youngest National Party and its supporters across the nation up in arms against ruling BJP for allegedly misusing agencies under political vendetta. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) however insisted he was called to ascertain his role in the formulation and implementation of the now-scrapped policy.
He was questioned for over nine hours. This questioning was preceded by protests and demonstrations by Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leaders and workers which took Delhi by storm. Leaders such as Sanjay Singh and Raghav Chadha were among dozens detained by Delhi police from outside the CBI office, where Delhi Police had deployed close to 1,000 personnel.
Nothing but vendetta: Kejriwal
“I was the Commissioner in the Income Tax department and could have made crores. If I am not honest, then nobody is. Hard-core honesty is the basis of AAP and that is what has rattled them and they are hitting our core”, said Kejriwal. He said that BJP does not like the good work done in Delhi and in Punjab and was targeting them.
“They cannot do the good work that we are doing. We are expanding, they want to finish AAP. It cannot be done, the people of the country are with us. These people are very powerful. They can send anyone to jail, and it does not matter if that person has committed any crime or not. I think the BJP has instructed the CBI that Kejriwal should be arrested. If BJP has given an order, then who is CBI? CBI is going to arrest me,” added Kejriwal just before his questioning.
Kejriwal said that he was asked 56 questions. Though CBI didn’t reveal the details, a senior AAP leader revealed that the questions were focused on meetings around the time when the policy was being formed and implemented, the decision to fix 12% commission for wholesalers, and allegations of favouring certain politicians and businessmen from the South, allegedly for bribes. Retorting to Kerjiwal’s assertion against the probe agency, BJP’s Delhi president Virendra Sachdeva said that the AAP leader forgot the decorum of language and spoke a criminal’s language. “Arvind Kejriwal spoke the language of Atiq Ahmed. We saw similarities between the two – that is usually the case between two criminals”, he said. The BJP national spokesperson, Gaurav Bhatia claimed that Kejriwal was “trembling with fear” after the CBI summoned him and said it was time for showing accountability and not rhetoric. Highlighting the past remarks of Kejriwal attacking politicians from different parties over corruption, Bhatia said the Delhi Chief Minister should get himself a lie detector test done to make things clear. Former Delhi Congress chief Ajay Maken said that Kejriwal and his associates who face serious corruption charges should not be shown any sympathy or support.
The CBI claimed that it had included ample evidence and statements of key witnesses, including Kejriwal, in a second chargesheet to establish that Sisodia is the main architect and kingpin in the entire excise policy formulation and implementation. “He introduced favourable provisions in the policy to facilitate the monopolization of wholesale and retail liquor trade in Delhi for the ‘South Group’ for siphoning off 6% out of 12% windfall profit margin for the wholesalers. The favour was given in lieu of upfront kickbacks worth Rs 90-100 crore paid by the South Group,” the chargesheet claimed.
The CBI in the court insisted that the former deputy CM “misused his official position and dishonestly introduced changes to the excise policy under the influence of South Group, through his close associate Vijay Nair”. The changes, it said, “not only facilitated the cartelization of the liquor trade in Delhi by South Group but also enabled it to recover the kickbacks paid by them upfront”. “As part of the conspiracy, Sisodia increased the wholesale profit margin from 5% to 12% without any justification. Investigation has revealed that the South Group was to recoup the money by way of such an increased profit margin (6% commission to be paid to the South Group from 12% profit margin set in policy),” CBI said in high court.
In the chargesheet, the agency further claimed the changes in policy were made by Sisodia with “malafide intention” in utter disregard to the recommendations by an expert committee headed by then excise commissioner Ravi Dhawan, as well as opinions received from legal experts (when these recommendations were put in public domain), since the same did not favour the South Group”. The file containing the cabinet note containing reference to such opinion of the legal experts is missing till date, it added. Besides, the CBI has claimed that Sisodia “threatened and pressurized various officials including the excise commissioners, when they did not accede to his directions”. It told the high court that the CM and the cabinet ministers have, during the course of investigation confirmed that the policy was formulated by Sisodia and executed by his excise department. The CBI has claimed in the chargesheet that out of Rs 90-100 crore bribe money, Rs 30 crore was paid through ‘hawala’ channels using Dinesh Arora, who was allegedly close to Sisodia. Subsequently, cash payments through ‘hawala’ channel were made by Nair to vendors engaged by AAP for Goa assembly election 2022. The Enforcement Directorate, which is conducting a parallel money laundering probe in the excise policy, has so far filed three chargesheets in the case and Sisodia is not named in any.
Delhi House passes a resolution
Taking a stern stance of questioning of chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, the state assembly passed a resolution against the purported misuse of federal agencies to destabilise the Delhi government. Initiating a discussion during the special one-day session, AAP legislator Rajesh Gupta claimed the BJP-led Centre is trying to trouble the AAP-led Delhi government. “The CBI and the ED do not question corrupt leaders belonging to the BJP… The BJP may use all its might, but Kejrwial will not budge. Arvind Kejriwal is doing good work in the capital, and I want to appeal to the BJP to not stop him,” said Gupta. The resolution was passed by voice vote.