Thiruvananthapuram

VACB awaits nod for probe against Chennithala

The Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau (VACB) appears to have laid the ground for a preliminary anti-corruption inquiry against Leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennithala. The Congress has slammed the move as an election-era political stunt and witch-hunt.

The VACB had conducted a ‘confidential inquiry’ into the allegation that the Kerala Bar Hotel Association (KBHA) had bribed Mr. Chennithala and two Congress Ministers in the previous Oommen Chandy government to roll back a proposed bar licence fee hike. Mr. Chennithala was the president of the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) at the time. The inquiry had also targeted former Excise Minister K. Babu and former Health Minister V.S. Sivakumar.

Based on its findings, the VACB has sought the permission of the government to conduct a preliminary inquiry into the accusations. The government would have to seek the consent of Governor Arif Mohammed Khan and Speaker P. Sreeramakrishnan to authorise such a move.

The recommendation to slap an anti-corruption investigation on Mr. Chennithala and two prominent United Democratic Front (UDF) leaders leaned heavily on a set of allegations raised by former KBHA working president Biju Ramesh. Mr. Ramesh had alleged that the KBHA had collected money from members under the head of an account named ‘legal fund’ to salvage the liquor business from a crippling hike in the permit fee.

He alleged that Mr. Babu had warned at a ‘pre-Budget’ meeting with hoteliers that the government would hike the annual bar licence fee. Mr. Babu allegedly told the KBHA to deliver ₹1 crore to the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee office to fend off the proposed hike. Mr. Ramesh also alleged that Mr. Babu had demanded ₹50 lakh for himself and ₹25 lakh for Mr. Sivakumar. The KBHA had allegedly delivered the bribe to their office and home respectively.

Association’s denial

The association has denied its former working president Biju Ramesh’s allegations and said it had collected no money from its members or bribed Congress leaders as alleged.

Mr. Chennithala said the Kerala Loka Ayukta and the court had thrown out ‘baseless charges’ against him and his party colleagues.

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2021 1:55:18 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Thiruvananthapuram/vacb-awaits-nod-for-probe-against-chennithala/article33201835.ece

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