Tensions between the BJP-ruled Center and the AAP government in Delhi escalated Friday after the CBI conducted searches at 31 locations, including the home of Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, in connection with a case he has registered against him and several excise officers in the Capital over alleged corruption in the rollout of a liquor policy recently withdrawn by the Delhi government.
CBI sources said Sisodia’s residence was among 31 locations being searched across the country. “Premises of three top excise officers in Delhi are also being searched,” a CBI officer said.
The premises searched included those linked to former Delhi Excise Commissioner Arava Gopi Krishna and former Deputy Excise Commissioner Anand Tiwari.
CBI has come. I welcome them. We are steadfastly (kattar) honest. Building the future of lakhs of children. It is unfortunate that those who do work in the country are harassed like this. That is why our country has not become Number 1 till date,” Sisodia said in a Twitter post in Hindi as the searches began in the morning.
Late at night, Sisodia told reporters: “A CBI team came in the morning and searched the entire house. My computer and phone have been seized. My family cooperated with the CBI team. We have done nothing wrong and we are not scared. We know the CBI is being misused. It is being controlled from the top. Everyone knows that by controlling CBI, BJP wants to stop the good work done by AAP. Hum kattar imaandaar hain (We are very honest people). We built schools and hospitals… The Center can misuse the CBI as much as it wants, we will not stop our good work.”. He said he had not been called for questioning so far.
The development comes less than a month after Delhi Lt Governor Vinai Kumar Saxena recommended a CBI probe into the Delhi Excise Policy 2021-22, putting Sisodia, in-charge of the excise department, directly in the line of fire. Following this, the Delhi government announced it was withdrawing the policy.
The Lt Governor’s recommendation followed a report submitted by Delhi Chief Secretary Naresh Kumar on the matter. The report, which officials said was submitted on July 8, alleged that undue benefits were provided to liquor vend licenses.
The report alleged that the excise department decided to allow a waiver of Rs 144.36 crore to the liquor cartel, on the tendered license fee, under the excuse of the Covid.
The report also alleged that decisions taken by the excise department did not have the approval of the competent authority, which is the Cabinet and, later, the Lt Governor.
The Delhi government had introduced the new policy to increase government revenue, improve consumer experience, reduce corruption and redistribute liquor shops in an equitable manner. Under the new policy, implemented in November last year, only private liquor shops were to run in the Capital.
In its FIR, the CBI named 15 people, with Sisodia’s name at the top of the list.
The FIR stated: “Praveen Kumar Rai, Director, MHA… has conveyed directions of competent authority for enquiry into the matter of irregularities in framing and implementation of the excise policy of GNCTD of Delhi for the year 2021-22 by the Central Bureau of Investigation. He has also forwarded a letter of LG Vinai Kumar Saxena alleging irregularities in framing and implementation of the excise policy. The OM is enclosed herewith, which discloses that Manish Sisodia, Deputy CM; Arava Gopi Krishna, then Commissioner (Excise); Anand Tiwari, then Deputy Commissioner (Excise); and Pankaj Bhatnagar, Assistant Commissioner (Excise) was instrumental in recommending and taking decisions related to excise policy for the year 2021-22 without approval of competent authority with an intention to extend undue favors to the licenses post tender.”
“Apart from the above, reliable sources have revealed that Vijay Nair, former CEO of Only Much Louder, an entertainment and event management company; Manoj Rai, ex-employee of Pernod Ricard; Amandeep Dhal, owner of Brindco Spirits; and Sameer Mahendru, owner of Indospirit, are actively involved in irregularities in framing and implementation of excise policy,” the CBI said in its FIR.
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“Source further revealed that some of the L-1 license holders are issuing credit notes to retail vendors with an ab-initio intention to divert the funds as undue pecuniary advantage to public servants. In furtherance to this, they are showing false entries in their books of accounts to keep their record straight. Source further revealed that Amit Arora, director of Buddy Retail Pvt Limited, Gurgaon; Dinesh Arora and Arjun Pandey are close associates of Manish Sisodia and are actively involved in managing and diverting the undue pecuniary advantage collected from liquor licensees to accused public servants. Source further revealed that Sameer Mahendru, MD, Indospirit, has transferred an amount of one crore to the account of Radha Industries. Radha Industries is being managed by Dinesh Arora. Source further revealed that Arun Ramchandra Pillai used to collect undue pecuniary advantage from Sameer Mahendru for onward transmission to accused public servant through Vijay Nair. A person named Arjun Pandey has once collected huge cash amount of about Rs 2-4 crore from Sameer Mahendru on behalf of Vijay Nair. Source has further informed that Mahadev Liquors, a proprietorship firm, was granted L-1 license. Sunny Marwah is the authorised signatory of the firm. He is also director in companies/firms being managed by family of Late Ponty Chadha. Source has informed that Sunny Marwah is in close contact with accused public servants and has been regularly giving undue pecuniary advantage to them,” the CBI’s FIR alleged.
“The aforementioned facts prima facie disclosed commission of offences punishable under section 120-B, 477A IPC and section 7 of the Prevention of Corruption Act 1988 (as amended in 2018) on the part of (the accused) and other unknown public servants and private persons,” it stated.