‘Liquorgate’ gets murkier as Sanjay Singh lands in ED net

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has dubbed Sanjay Singh’s arrest as illegal even as he claims that the ED action against Singh betrays Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s nervousness ahead of general elections to be held in 2024.  A report by Aayush Goel

It’s been 15 months that the liquor gate battle is on between Aam Aadmi party (AAP) and Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) and it has gotten murkier. The latest arrested AAP’s stalwart Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament Sanjay Singh has accused the Enforcement Directorate (ED) of plotting to kill him on behalf of BJP. Singh during one of the hearings at special court claimed before the judge that the ED tried to whisk him away from its office with “ulterior motive.”

“After you granted remand (to ED) on the last date of hearing, at 10 at night, I was told that I was being taken somewhere else. I asked why they didn’t inform the court. They (ED officials) said there was some issue of chemical pesticide. They said they have got phone calls from people above. I told them I won’t go outside without the court’s order. They asked me to give that in writing. The next day they said the same thing. They had some ulterior motive. I asked what happens if I am killed in an encounter, who will be responsible? They said they will be responsible. What’s the point of responsibility when I am dead? Again and again, I asked for the court’s order,” Singh told the judge. The special court has directed the ED not to take arrested party leader Sanjay Singh anywhere without informing the court.

In what came as yet another blow for the AAP, the ED arrested Singh in a money laundering case linked to the investigation into the Delhi liquor policy case. Searches were also conducted at his residence though no recovery was announced. Interestingly the ED, which has filed multiple chargesheets in connection with the case, has never named Sanjay Singh as an accused, nor summoned him to record his statement. Months earlier, Singh had posted a photo on X, formerly Twitter, of him standing next to posters outside his home “welcoming” the ED to his “poor house”.

With AAP riding high on its slogan of corruption-free governance, the BJP has been using the  Delhi Liquorgate  to counter the same. Singh is the third major arrest from the party. Delhi Health Minister Satyendar Jain was arrested in May last year on charges of laundering money through four companies that were allegedly linked to him.

The biggest setback for the party, however, came in February this year, when then Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia was arrested by the CBI. Though even party supremo and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal too was questioned regarding the same, nothing concrete could be found.

BJP getting desperate: Kejriwal

Refusing to take Singh’s arrest lying down, AAP linked the action to the BJP’s “growing desperation” ahead of the next year’s Lok Sabha elections. Singh is the most prominent political voice of the AAP both inside and outside the Parliament and AAP can’t afford to lose it right before elections.

Arvind Kejriwal said Singh’s arrest was “illegal” and reflected Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “nervousness

“The arrest of Sanjay Singh is completely illegal. This shows Modi ji’s nervousness and failed attempts to crush AAP. They will arrest many more opposition leaders before the elections. It seems to be the last desperate effort of a person who is going to lose. As the elections draw near, ED, CBI, police and other agencies will be used in different ways but we are not worried about it. When a person is losing, they indulge in such things.  Singh is the strongest voice against Narendra Modi’s corruption in the country. Initially, he (the PM) got Sanjay Singh suspended from the Parliament, and now this arrest speaks of their motives,” said Kejriwal. He further claimed that BJP had filed 170 cases against AAP leaders but in 140,  judgements were pronounced against centre.

“They have been investigating the case for 15 months but have not been able to unearth even a single rupee of illegal money. So much time and so many resources have been expended but they haven’t been able to prove anything. This is just a political vendetta. The BJP knows it is losing,” said AAP Rajya Sabha MP Raghav Chaddha

Court can’t see any money trail 

In what brings ED and BJP under scanner, the Supreme Court acknowledging lack of any money trail linking Manish Sisodia to the scam has asked ED to explain the basis of making an offence. ED has so far failed to provide any apparent money trail connecting him directly with a lobby that allegedly paid kickbacks to get benefits under the Capital’s now-scrapped excise policy.

Hearing the politician’s bail petition, a bench of justices Sanjiv Khanna and SVN Bhatti observed that there were procedural and factual flaws in the federal agency’s case against Sisodia under the 2002 Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA)

“How will you bring him (Sisodia) under PMLA? Has money gone to his pocket? The chain is not fully established. Money came to somebody else, its acquisition and use is by somebody else. You have to establish the flow of money from the liquor lobby to the accused,” the bench asked additional solicitor general (ASG) SV Raju, who represented ED and the Central Bureau of Investigation, both of which are investigating alleged bribery linked to the 2021 Delhi excise policy.

BJP rebuts AAP charge 

Rubbishing the CM’s claim, Delhi BJP chief Virendra Sachdeva said Kejriwal and his party were “mired in corruption” and that the Delhi CM’s claim about the Centre victimising AAP MLAs and ministers was not true. “It is shocking to see Arvind Kejriwal claiming to be a victim, even as over 10 of his MLAs are facing grave charges,” the BJP leader said.

Union minister and BJP MP from New Delhi, Meenakashi Lekhi said that the arrest of the AAP leaders is part of the steps being taken towards building a ‘Bhrashtachaar Mukt Bharat’ (corruption-free India).  “For the last 15 months, Arvind Kejriwal has been trying to save those accused who are not even getting bail. The people of Delhi regret handing over power to Kejriwal because they did not know that Kejriwal and his team will turn Delhi into the corruption capital,” said Manoj Tiwari, the BJP MP from North East Delhi.

Leader of the opposition in Delhi assembly, Ramvir Singh Bidhuri has demanded the resignation of chief minister Arvind Kejriwal over the excise ‘scam’. “The time is not far when Arvind Kejriwal will land in jail. Two people who were accused in the excise scam have become government witnesses,” Bidhuri said.

The Case

·         The Liquor policy case or Liquor-gate, as it is called, is being investigated by both the CBI and the ED. Under the now withdrawn policy, introduced in November 2021, the government withdrew from retail sale of liquor and allowed private licensees to run stores.

·         In a departure from norms in most states, the government no longer had anything to do with selling liquor and allowed only private shops to do so. The central aim was to stop black marketing, increase revenue and improve the consumer experience.

·         It also allowed the home delivery of liquor and shops to stay open till 3 am. Licensees could also offer unlimited discounts. The government reported a substantial 27 per cent increase in income from the policy, generating around Rs 8,900 crore.

·         In July 2022, Delhi Chief Secretary Naresh Kumar flagged gross violations in the policy and alleged “undue benefits” to liquor licensees. The then Lieutenant Governor of Delhi, VK Saxena asked for a CBI probe. Economic Offences Wing of the Delhi Police started the probe

·         The policy was eventually withdrawn as Manish Sisodia said the policy was going to be cancelled because the BJP was using the investigating agencies it controls to intimidate vendors.

·         Manish Sisodia was arrested in February 2023 and interestingly had not been named in the chargesheet filed by the agency till then.

·         Separately, the ED also launched a probe into the Delhi liquor scam.