Chhattisgarh liquor scam: Country-made liquor sold illegally from state shops, syndicate profited by ₹1,500 crore
The Enforcement Directorate has uncovered a multi-crore corruption and money-laundering syndicate in Chhattisgarh involved in an unaccounted country-made liquor scam. The orchestrator is suspected of profiting by up to ?1,500 crore without depositing any money to the state exchequer and of illegally selling liquor from government-run shops across the state. The ED has arrested Anwar Dhebar, a liquor trader and an accused in the case, and is investigating possible collaborators in the government bureaucracy and politics. The syndicate allegedly controlled and manipulated the entire chain of liquor trade in the state, including the procurement and retail sale of liquor.
Mumbai: The Enforcement Directorate (ED), which is investigating the alleged ₹2,000 liquor scam in Chhattisgarh, revealed on Sunday that it has unearthed corruption and money laundering of multi-crore by a syndicate that controlled and manipulated the entire chain of the liquor trade in the state.
The orchestrator had illegally sold unaccounted country-made liquor from the government-run shops across the state during 2019 - 2022, thereby profiting by up to ₹1,500 crore without depositing a rupee to the state exchequer.
The illegal, off–the–book sale of country-made liquor amounted to an estimated 40% of the total sale of liquor in that state, ED officials said. The syndicate ensured that it collected money illegally from every bottle of liquor sold in the state, ED sources said.
A case accused, liquor trader Anwar Dhebar, who allegedly led the criminal syndicate behind the scam, was arrested on Saturday by the ED, and was subsequently remanded to the agency’s custody by a Raipur special court for four days for custodial interrogation.The official said Dhebar’s custodial interrogation can throw more light on the scam’s conspiracy and the identities of possible collaborators, including those in the government bureaucracy and politics.
Revenue from liquor, that is the excise duty, is one of the highest contributors to Chhattisgarh’s exchequer, according to sources. The Excise departments are mandated to regulate the supply of liquor, ensure quality liquor to users, prevent hooch tragedies, and earn revenue for the state. The state controls all aspects of the liquor trade --- from procurement to retail sale to consumers. The state runs its 800-odd liquor shops and private liquor shops are not allowed. The Chhattisgarh State Marketing Corporation Limited (CSMCL) procures centrally all the liquor sold in that state and also issues tenders for manpower suppliers, who run the shops, cash-collection tenders, select bottle-makers and hologram makers. “But ED’s investigation revealed that the criminal syndicate led by Anwar Dhebar turned down all the state’s objectives,” the ED official said.
The probe revealed that the scam was operating at three levels. Dhebar, in conspiracy with others, allegedly started getting manufactured unaccounted, off-the-books country-made or kacha liquor and selling the same through government-run shops.
“Duplicate holograms were provided, duplicate bottles were procured in cash and the liquor was transported directly from the distiller to the shops bypassing the state warehouses, “the ED official said. The manpower was trained to sell the unaccounted liquor, in cash.
“Everyone in the illegal chain got the share. The illegal chain included some distillers, transporters, hologram makers, bottle makers, excise officials, the higher echelons of the excise department, Anwar Debar, senior Indian Administrative Service officer and politicians,” the official said.
The syndicate also allegedly charged a case of between ₹75 to ₹150 per case (depending on the type of liquor) from the suppliers for each of the cash procured by the CSMCL, the official said. “The syndicate was also paid an annual commission by the main distillers for getting distillery licences and getting a fixed share in the market purchase of CSMCL. The distillers used to pay bribes as per the percentage of market share allotted to them and procurement was done strictly in this ratio by CSMCL, “the official said. The commission was also allegedly charged from foreign-liquor suppliers.
It is estimated that ₹2,000 crore was generated by the syndicate in a short span, from 2019 to 2022. Dhebar is suspected to have been responsible for the collection of the scam’s illegal money but is not the ultimate beneficiary. “It is established by the probe that after deducting a percentage, he had passed on the remaining amount to his political masters, “the official said.
The ED had earlier conducted searches at multiple locations in the month of March and recorded the statements of various persons involved in the process, collecting evidence of the alleged “unprecedented corruption and money laundering to the tune of ₹2,000 crore in the liquor scam of Chhattisgarh.” the official said.
Dhebar, a private citizen, allegedly managed to get a pliant Commissioner and MD of CSMCL and hired close associates like Vikas Agarwal alias Subbu and Arvind Singh to make the system completely subservient to him. He allegedly controlled the entire chain of the liquor trade, starting from private distillers and glass bottle makers to cash-collection vendors, and leveraged it to extort maximum amounts of bribes/commission, benefitting other stakeholders, according to the agency.
The ED arrested Anwar Dhebar, a liquor businessman, on Saturday from a Raipur hotel in a money - laundering case linked to an alleged liquor scam in Chhattisgarh. His lawyer had denied all allegations of wrongdoing against his client, saying the action against him seemed to be politically motivated and that they will move the Supreme Court.
The case emanated from an Income Tax department charge sheet filed earlier in connection with alleged tax evasion and irregularities in liquor trade in Chhattisgarh and other states, according to sources.
The ED had earlier conducted search operations at 35 locations across Chhattisgarh, West Bengal and Delhi, including the residential premises of Dhebar, but he had allegedly slipped out of a secret trap door and did not participate in the search. “He was summoned on seven occasions but did not join the investigation,” an ED source said.