Replies sought after CBI’s plea against bail to Vijay Nair, Abhishek Boinpally in liquor case
During the hearing, Justice Yogesh Khanna questioned the central agency why it was seeking a stay on the proceedings, when both accused remain in custody as they were arrested by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in a money-laundering case related to the excise policy
The Delhi high court on Thursday sought the response of Vijay Nair, a businessman associated with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), and Abhishek Boinpally, a consultant who allegedly worked for the “south lobby”, on petitions by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) challenging the bail granted to the two in connection with its corruption probe into the Delhi excise policy 2021-22.
During the hearing, Justice Yogesh Khanna questioned the central agency why it was seeking a stay on the proceedings, when both accused remain in custody as they were arrested by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in a money-laundering case related to the excise policy.
“They are already in custody (in the ED case). Why do you want to stay in that order? What is the hurry? Let them file a reply, then we will see,” justice Khanna said, and deferred the hearing on the CBI’s stay application to December 5.
The Delhi government’s 2021-22 excise policy aimed to revitalise the city’s flagging liquor business. It aimed to replace a sales-volume based regime with a license fee one for traders, and promised swankier stores, free of the infamous metal grilles, ultimately giving customers a better buying experience. The policy also introduced discounts and offers on the purchase of liquor, a first for Delhi.
The plan, however, came to an abrupt end, with Delhi’s lieutenant governor Vinai Kumar Saxena recommending a CBI 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 the AAP alleging that Saxena’s predecessor sabotaged the move with a few last-minute changes that resulted in lower-than-expected revenues.
In September, the CBI arrested Nair for his alleged role in the “cartelisation” and “conspiracy” related to alleged irregularities in the allocation of the liquor licence, and in October, Boinpally was arrested for allegedly working as a middleman in “facilitating cartelisation”.
On November 15, a trial court granted bail to the accused, even though they were arrested by the ED in the money laundering case related to the excise policy, hours before the bail order was to be pronounced.
The trial court, while granting bail to the accused, had noted that except for verbal statements of witnesses, the agency does not have any material evidence to substantiate their claims.
Challenging this, the CBI counsel told the high court that every reasoning given by the trial court judge was “perverse”. Advocate Nikhil Goel also submitted that the statutory time period of 60 days from the date of the first arrest for filing a charge sheet will expire on Friday, when the agency will file the document.
“Regarding these two respondents (Nair and Boinpally), we will be filing the charge sheet by tomorrow (Friday). We will not breach the 60-day period,” he said.
The CBI’s counsel contended that a huge amount of money was brought to Delhi at the instance of Nair and while ₹30 crore was received here, it was promised that an amount of ₹100-150 crore would be brought to the Capital.
“We have to investigate what had to be done with that cash. We have to see what the person who paid that cash would have gained from it,” the counsel said, adding that the promises allegedly made by Nair were included in the actual excise policy.
The CBI counsel further said that receiving cash, influencing policy, influencing public servants and promises to receive more cash put us in a very crucial stage.”
“By way of the impugned order, the special judge has not only granted concession of bail to the respondent accused in an extremely serious and wide-ranging economic offence, but this discretion has been exercised at a very crucial stage of investigation.” It said this is a case of conspiracy sought to be carried out in an extremely convoluted manner with a clear purpose of making an attempt that the investigation, if any, does not reach the real culprits,” the CBI’s plea read.
The CBI said it was asked to inquire into a report submitted by the Delhi chief secretary and when it commenced its probe, it unearthed the conspiracy led by Nair, who was allegedly collecting money from private liquor wholesalers in lieu of getting changes favourable for them effected in the excise policy.
Senior advocate Rebecca John, appearing for Nair, said the whole jurisprudence has changed in the country and now, it is jail and not bail. She said the moment Nair got bail in the CBI case, he was arrested by the ED in the money-laundering case and added, “This is how the agencies work. The agencies act in tandem.”
John vehemently opposed each and every ground taken by the CBI to urge the court to set aside the trial court’s order granting bail to Nair.