Bar bribery case: Ahead of local polls, Kerala govt moves to probe Oppn leader

The decision came after a liquor baron, Biju Ramesh, recently alleged that he had bribed Chennithala, K Babu and V S Sivakumar during the tenure of the Oommen Chandy government.

The CPI(M)-led Kerala government has revived the bar bribery scandal in the run up to the local body elections, moving to investigate Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala and two other senior Congress members in a case that had dealt a blow to the previous UDF dispensation in the state.

The decision came after a liquor baron, Biju Ramesh, recently alleged that he had bribed Chennithala, the then Kerala Congress unit chief, and K Babu and V S Sivakumar, former excise and health ministers, respectively, during the tenure of the Oommen Chandy government to reduce the annual license fee for hotels selling Indian-made foreign liquor

Government sources said Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau (VACB) had completed a quick verification of the allegations. The government will soon seek the sanction of the governor to register the case and initiate a probe against them.

The bar bribery scandal had revolved around K M Mani, the late former finance minister and regional Kerala Congress(M) leader, who allegedly pocketed Rs 1 crore as bribe to allow the functioning of bars serving sub-standard liquor. The VCAB, under both the UDF and LDF, had probed the allegation and submitted closure reports as many as four times. A court ruled that there was no evidence to show that Mani had taken bribe. The latest closure report was filed in March 2018, a year before Mani died.

Mani’s son Jose K Mani, a Rajya Sabha member, recently joined the LDF. Days later, the bar owners’ association leader Ramesh raked up the scandal again, giving a new twist.

Ramesh alleged that bar hotel owners had paid Chennithala Rs 1 crore, Babu Rs 50 lakh and Sivakumar Rs 25 lakh to reduce licence fees. Ramesh had also alleged that Jose had offered him Rs 10 crore to withdraw the bribery allegation against his father.

Congress state president Mullappally Ramachandran lashed out at the government for reviving the scandal, saying Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had “lost his mental balance” amid the gold smuggling controversy.

“Why Vijayan is reluctant to order a preliminary probe against Jose K Mani on the allegation that he had offered Rs 10 crore to Biju Ramesh to withdraw the allegation against Mani,” he asked.

Chennithala said he welcomed any probe as he had not taken bribes from bar owners. “Four times, vigilance had probed the bar bribery case and found the allegation baseless. The present move is an outcome of the conspiracy of the Chief Minister’s office,’’ he said.

The CPI(M) government, which has been in the thick of controversy, has been either reviving or speeding up cases against senior UDF leaders in recent times.

A few days back, former minister V K Ibrahim Kunju was arrested in connection with a corruption case pertaining to construction of a bridge during his term as public works minister.

The government is also looking to register rape cases against UDF leaders based on the allegations of a woman said to be involved in the solar scam, which had rocked the previous government.

Earlier this month, the woman had given a statement against former minister and Congress leader A P Anil Kumar that he had raped her in 2012 in a Kochi hotel.

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