In a major embarrassment to the Congress-led UDF government in Kerala, state finance minister KM Mani was on Thursday booked by Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau in the bar bribe scam.
According to VACB sources, the case against Mani, who is Kerala Congress(M) supremo, was registered on the basis of statements given by some of those questioned by investigators as part of a preliminary inquiry into the allegation that he had taken a hefty sum as bribe from bar owners for decisions favourable to them.
As the next step, a special investigation team would be constituted by the VACB for a detailed investigation in the case which pertains to the allegation levelled by Biju Ramesh, working president of Kerala Bar Hotel Owners Association, about two months back.
The LDF leaders demanded resignation of Mani, who is away in New Delhi to attend a meeting of state finance ministers convened by Union finance minister Arun Jaitley.
But the second rung leaders of his party put up a brave face and said there was no need for him to quit simply because a case had been registered.
The scam rattled the Oommen Chandy government with the LDF opposition latching on it to attack the ministry. Under pressure, the government then ordered a "quick verification" to ascertain whether there was sufficient ground to go in for a full-fledged probe.
The order was issued based on a letter given by opposition leader VS Achuthanandan, who demanded a probe into the matter. VACB top brass had received legal advice that an FIR should be registered within 45 days of starting the preliminary probe in such cases.
A seasoned player in Kerala politics, Mani has been minister in most of the UDF Governments since 1980s. His party KC(M) is the third largest component in the UDF with a sound support base in the Central Travancore region, especially among the Christian community.