Delhi excise policy case: ED grills Manish Sisodia for 6 hours in Tihar jail
The AAP leader was also asked why he changed his phone and SIM cards around the time the now-scrapped policy was being implemented, said officers.
The Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Tuesday questioned former deputy chief minister of Delhi Manish Sisodia inside Tihar jail about policy details and his links with key accused people in connection with its money laundering probe into irregularities in the framing and implementation of Delhi excise policy 2021-22, people familiar with the matter said.
The ED team questioned Sisodia for almost six hours between 11am and 5pm, officials said, adding his questioning is likely to continue for a couple more days.
Officials of ED interrogated Sisodia for the first time and specifically asked him about his association with Vijay Nair and Dinesh Arora (co-accused in the case), the decision to change profit margin from 5% to 12% for wholesalers, and kickbacks that were allegedly paid in advance by the “South Group” comprising politicians and businessmen from Telangana and Andhra Pradesh in return for the Delhi government handing over nine out of 32 retail liquor zones to the lobby, according to a senior official who didn’t want to be named.
Also read: Manish Sisodia ‘mentally tortured’ in CBI custody, pressured to sign documents, says AAP
While Nair, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)’s communications in-charge, is accused of attending meetings with liquor businessmen and demanding bribes, Dinesh Arora is alleged to be close to Sisodia and collecting bribes from the South Group.
“Since Sisodia headed the Group of Ministers (GoM) and handed over the changed report with increased profit margin to his then secretary C Arvind on March 18, 2021, he was asked who took that decision and why,” said this officer.
Besides, the AAP leader was also asked why he changed his phone and SIM cards around the time the now-scrapped policy was being implemented, said a second officer.
On Tuesday, CBI also questioned Sisodia’s personal assistant Devender Sharma about the change of phones and other details of policy.
Meanwhile, the federal anti-money laundering probe agency on Monday night arrested Arun Ramachandra Pillai, the accused who allegedly represented the South Group, particularly the interests of K Kavitha (daughter of Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao), and also allegedly passed on bribes. “Pillai has been involved in the policy formulation, has given inputs to Vijay Nair and been a part of a discussion wherein Vijay Nair proposed favours in the policy that was being drafted at that time,” ED informed a Delhi court on Tuesday. It said Pillai was actively involved in cartel formation and was an accomplice in passing on kickbacks from the South Group to the tune of ₹100 crore to ministers of AAP, ED said in court.
The South Group comprises YSR Congress MP Magunta Srinivasulu Reddy, his son Raghav Magunta, Sarath Reddy (promoter of Aurobindo Group), and K Kavitha (daughter of Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao) and Delhi based businessman Sameer Mahendru. It was represented by Abhishek Boinpally, Arun Pillai and Butchibabu in meetings with Vijay Nair and other businessmen.
Sisodia was arrested by CBI on February 26. A Delhi court on Monday sent him to judicial custody till March 20. CBI has confronted Sisodia with statements from C Arvind, his former secretary who is now a key witness in the case, and former excise commissioner Arava Gopi Krishna.
It is alleged that Sisodia had called C Arvind to the residence of chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on March 18, 2021, where he was given the changed draft of the GoM report mentioning the profit margin for wholesalers as 12%. Prior to this, the profit margin was 5% and discovered this change that day only, C Arvind has told agencies.
This draft document was also allegedly photocopied by the South Group at a hotel in Delhi during their stay between March 14 and 17, 2021.
Gopi Krishna, who was named as an accused in CBI’s first information report filed on August 17, 2022, has told the investigators that when Sisodia was informed about a cartelisation complaint against businessman Sameer Mahendru’s firm, Indo Spirits, the deputy CM “sternly” told him (Krishna) to ensure that a licence is granted to the company.
Sisodia has not been named in three charge sheets filed so far – two by ED and one by CBI – in the case but after his arrest, a charge sheet will be filed soon, said the first official quoted above.
Sisodia has rubbished the allegations against him. Just before his arrest on February 26, he had said that he was being targetted. “Conspiracies are being hatched by CBI and ED and false cases being lodged against our party leaders because PM Narendra Modi is afraid of CM Arvind Kejriwal’s rising popularity. As the AAP grows further, BJP will continue to slap false cases on us. We are not afraid of CBI, ED and their false cases,” Sisodia said, adding that people were starting to regard the AAP as an alternative to the BJP.