Kejriwal questioned by CBI in excise case
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal was questioned by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in connection with its probe into alleged irregularities in the 2021-22 Delhi excise policy. Kejriwal reiterated that the case was a political conspiracy by the rival Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and denied any wrongdoing. Multiple senior leaders were detained by police for violating restrictions on large gatherings during the protests that preceded the questioning. The CBI is investigating the role of all involved in the formulation and implementation of the now-scrapped policy.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Sunday questioned chief minister Arvind Kejriwal for the first time in connection with its corruption and criminal conspiracy probe into the alleged irregularities in the 2021-22 Delhi excise policy, with the latter emerging after over nine hours to reiterate that the case was a political conspiracy by the rival Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The questioning was preceded by protests and demonstrations by Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leaders and workers at several locations, and multiple senior leaders were detained by police for violating restrictions on large gatherings.
“The chief minister of Delhi… joined the investigation today and his statement has been recorded under section 161 CrPC. The statement will be verified and collated with the available evidence. Further investigation of this case is continuing,” a CBI spokesperson said on Sunday.
After reaching his residence late in the evening, Kejriwal said: “I was called at 11 am and they questioned me till 8.30pm. They questioned me in a cordial atmosphere. I want to thank CBI officers for their hospitality and courtesy. I answered all the questions because I did not have anything to hide.”
The CM repeated his defence, saying the allegations of scam were fake and baseless and inspired by dirty politics. “AAP is hardcore honest. Hardcore honesty is our basic ideology and we will never compromise with it. This is the reason they want to throw mud at us…”
“The second reason is that they (BJP) do not like the good work done in Delhi and in Punjab. They cannot do the good work that we are doing. We are expanding, they want to finish AAP. It cannot be done, the people of the country are with us,” said Kejriwal, who reached the CBI headquarters in the morning. His counterpart from Punjab, Bhagwant Mann, and Delhi cabinet colleagues accompanied Kejriwal when he left his residence, but they were stopped before they could reach the CBI headquarters
Kejriwal said he was asked 56 questions. While the agency did not release details, people aware of the matter said the questions were focused on meetings around the time when the policy was being formed and implemented, the decision to fix 12% commission for wholesalers, and allegations of favouring certain politicians and businessmen from the South, allegedly for bribes.
Leaders such as Sanjay Singh and Raghav Chadha were among dozens detained by Delhi police from outside the CBI office, where Delhi Police had deployed close to 1,000 personnel, people aware of the matter said.
Before going for questioning, Kejriwal said in a video message that he would truthfully and honestly answer the questions posed to him as he had nothing to hide, while also targeting BJP.
“These people are very powerful. They can send anyone to jail, it does not matter if that person has committed any crime or not. I think the BJP has instructed CBI that Kejriwal should be arrested. If BJP has given an order, then who is CBI? CBI is going to arrest me,” he said.
Kejriwal was summoned by the probe team as “witness”, not as a suspect, HT reported on Saturday.
The agency is trying to ascertain the role of all involved in the formulation and implementation of the now-scrapped policy over which his former deputy, Manish Sisodia, was arrested on February 26.
Kejriwal is not named in the first information report (FIR) filed on August 17 last year, but he was part of certain meetings and was in the know of developments, something the agency focused on during his questioning on Sunday, an official aware of the matter said.
C Arvind, former secretary to Sisodia told investigators that the decision to increase the profit margin for wholesalers or L1 licences from 5% to 12% was conveyed to him for the first time at CM’s residence in mid-March, 2021.
Kejriwal was neither a part of any GoM (group of ministers) to decide the contours of excise policy, nor did he sign any document, but the federal agency believes the decision to increase the profit margin from 5% to 12% — one of the key portions of the allegations — was not possible without the approval of a top authority in the Delhi government.
Officials said C Arvind was given the draft of GoM report, which had 12% profit margin for wholesalers, for putting before the council of ministers at CM’s residence.
There were no discussions about handing the wholesale liquor business to private players in meetings held by the group of ministers (GoM) — which comprised Sisodia, Satyendar Jain and Kailash Gahlot — before mid-March 2021, C Arvind claimed.
The CM’s questioning also covered why AAP’s communications in-charge Vijay Nair was given full authority, as claimed by multiple witnesses, to meet with liquor traders and politicians and businessmen from the so-called South group that got nine retail zones out of 32.
According to arrested businessman Sameer Mahendru’s statement to the Enforcement Directorate (ED), Kejriwal told him during a video call arranged by Nair that “Vijay (Nair) is his boy and that he should trust him”.
Mahendru, agencies have alleged, was part of the South group, which gave ₹100 crore bribe to the AAP leaders in lieu of nine retail zones.
Kejriwal on Saturday alleged that witnesses were being tortured to make false statements, and said that his party would pursue charges against investigators for making false claims.
The South Group, according to ED, comprises YSR Congress parliamentarian Magunta Sreenivasulu Reddy (or MSR), his son Raghav Magunta, Sarath Reddy (promoter of Aurobindo Group), K Kavitha (daughter of Telangana chief minister K Chandrashekar Rao) and Mahendru.
The Delhi government’s 2021-22 excise policy aimed to revitalise the city’s flagging liquor business by handing the trade over to the private sector. The plan, however, came to an abrupt end, with Delhi’s lieutenant governor Vinai Kumar Saxena recommending a probe into alleged irregularities in the regime. This ultimately resulted in the policy being scrapped prematurely and being replaced by the 2020-21 regime, with AAP alleging that Saxena’s predecessor sabotaged the move with a few last-minute changes that resulted in lower-than-expected revenues.
Delhi BJP spokesperson Praveen Shankar Kapoor said the people of Delhi rejected the protest calls by AAP against the summoning of CM. “Traffic flowed freely across the city and the number of arrests by Delhi Police for trying to obstruct traffic was very less,” said Kapoor.
Former Delhi Congress chief Ajay Maken said that Kejriwal and his associates who face serious corruption charges should not be shown any sympathy or support.
“I believe that individuals like Kejriwal and his associates who face serious corruption charges should not be shown any sympathy or support. The allegations of LiquorGate and GheeGate must be thoroughly investigated and those found guilty should be punished,” he wrote on Twitter.
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