The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Sunday arrested Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia following his over seven-hour questioning in connection with the allegation of irregularities in the formulation and implementation of the now-scrapped 2021-22 excise policy case.
The agency, in a statement, said: “...he gave evasive replies and did not cooperate in the investigation despite being confronted with evidence to the contrary. Therefore, he has been arrested...the arrested accused will be produced before the designated court, Delhi [on Monday].” The move triggered a sharp reaction from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) which accused the BJP of getting Mr. Sisodia arrested in a “false” case.
“Manish is innocent. His arrest is dirty politics. There is a lot of anger among people on Manish’s arrest. People are watching. People understand everything. People will respond to it. This will increase our spirits. Our struggle will get stronger,” AAP chief and Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said in a tweet. Calling it a conspiracy to stop Mr. Kejriwal’s “revolution”, the party alleged that the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) were being used to destroy it in any way possible.
The CBI had previously summoned Mr. Sisodia on February 19. However, he sought more time stating that he was finalising the Budget of Delhi. Around 11 a.m. on Sunday, he appeared before the probe team after paying homage to Mahatma Gandhi at Raj Ghat. He told reporters that he was not afraid of going to jail.
“...when I left my job as a journalist, my wife supported me and even today, my family is standing by my side. My workers will take care of my family if I get arrested,” he said.
Ahead of the questioning, the CBI headquarters was heavily barricaded and policemen deployed in large numbers. They detained about 50 workers and leaders of the AAP who had gathered nearby to organise a protest. Among them were Rajya Sabha member Sanjay Singh, Delhi Minister Gopal Rai, three MLAs and one former MLA.
Mr. Sisodia was earlier quizzed by the CBI on October 17 last year and over a month later, it filed a chargesheet against five private persons and two Excise department officials. However, he had not been arraigned.
On August 17, 2022, the agency had registered a case against Mr. Sisodia and 14 others on a reference from the Union Home Ministry. As alleged, the excise policy was modified to extend undue favours to licence holders; licence fee was waived or reduced; and L-1 (wholesaler) licence was extended without the competent authority’s approval.
It is alleged that the then AAP communication and media in-charge Vijay Nair, on behalf of AAP leaders, received ₹100 crore as “kickbacks” in advance from a “South Group” whose prominent entities were YSRCP MP Magunta Srinivasulu Reddy, his son Raghav Magunta, TRS MLC K. Kavitha and Aurobindo Pharma director P. Sarath Chandra Reddy.
The group partners were allegedly given 65% stakes in Mahandru’s Indo Spirits for the recovery of payments. The stakes were controlled through “false representation, concealment of true ownership and proxies”.
According to the CBI chargesheet, the wholesale distribution of Pernod Ricard and Diageo was to go to Indo Spirits and Brindco Spirits, respectively. After getting the money back, the 6% kickbacks received from wholesalers was to be shared equally between Mr. Nair and Hyderabad-businessman Abhishek Boinpally.
Based on the CBI case, the ED is conducting a money laundering probe and has arrested nine persons. Its chargesheet states that a portion of the alleged kickbacks was diverted through “hawala” channels for the AAP’s poll campaign in the 2022 Goa Assembly election.
The ED has alleged that the “South Group” members were represented by co-accused Arun Pillai, Mr. Boinpally and chartered accountant Butchibabu Gorantla. The new excise policy extended an extraordinarily high, 12%, profit margin for wholesalers and almost 185% profit margin for the retailers. As decided, half of the 12% margin was to be collected from the wholesalers.
The agency also alleges that a part of the profits from Indo Spirits was transferred to Mr. Pillai. This apart, ₹1.70 crore from the Indo Spirits profits directly went to India Ahead and Andhra Prabha Publications, in which Mr. Boinpally allegedly had a financial interest.
Recently, the CBI had arrested Mr. Gorantla for his alleged involvement in the scam.
‘Misuse of power’
Meanwhile, the Opposition parties have condemned the arrest of Mr. Sisodia. Senior Congress leader Abhishek Singhvi tweeted: “God be with u #Manish ji. Distressing two see such repeated, flagrant, egregious & shameless misuse of arrest power. #Sisodia Cannot be (a) flight risk, suborning evidence or witnesses or non-cooperation after almost a year of investigation & interrogation. How & why arrest after so long?”
Trinamool Congress leader Derek O’Brien said: “If Manish Sisodia had got himself a BJP brand of washing machine, he would never been arrested. Bravo, Manish. Allies, Shiv Sena, SAD, JD(U), TDP and many others have all abandoned BJP. Only CBI, ED, IT remain true allies. Targeting Opposition leaders is the desperate duo’s favourite job.”
Reacting sharply to the arrest of Mr. Sisodia, Samajwadi Party president and former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav said the ruling BJP had accepted defeat before the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.”...that is why it is implicating the opposition political forces in different states in false cases, but the warriors are not afraid of going to jail. How long can the truth be kept under arrest?,” he said.