Explained: How liquor scam of over ₹2,000 cr in Chhattisgarh was unearthed by ED
The ED in the remand application stated the sale of unaccounted illicit liquor was almost 30-40% of the total sale of liquor in the state
The Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Saturday unearthed a liquor scam of over ₹2,000 crore in Chhattisgarh and the agency claimed the syndicate comprised of high-level state government officials, private persons and political executives.
The ED in its remand application for Anwar Dhebar, arrested and produced in court on Saturday, claimed that IAS officer Anil Tuteja who is joint secretary in department of industry and commerce, was also the prime accused of the illegal syndicate along with Anwar.
Anwar is the elder brother of Raipur mayor Aijaz Dhebar.
Also Read: Chhattisgarh liquor scam: Country-made liquor sold illegally from state shops, syndicate profited by ₹1,500 crore
The ED in the remand application stated the sale of unaccounted illicit liquor was almost 30-40% of the total sale of liquor in the state.
How ED began its investigations in the case
The ED recorded an Enforcement Case Information Report (ECIR), bearing number RPZO/11/2022, against Anil Tuteja, an IAS officer of Chhattisgarh, and others to investigate the matter under the provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 (PMLA) on the basis of complaint filed by the Income Tax Department alleging commission of offence punishable under section 276C(1)/ 277/ 278/ 278E of IT Act, 1961 before Tis Hazari courts.
The IT department claimed that this syndicate comprised of high-level state government officials, private persons and political executives of the Chhattisgarh government.
IAS Tuteja, joint secretary in the department of industry and commerce, was managing the affairs and the kingpin of the illegal syndicate along with Anwar.
Both of them were close to the political executives of Chhattisgarh and due to this proximity, they were able to control the postings and therefore indulged in systematic extortion and corruption, particularly in the excise department.
According to the findings of the IT department, the ED claimed that a large amount of bribe was being collected by this syndicate from liquor suppliers including money collected through corrupt practices.
The IT department managed to seize digital devices and retrieve WhatsApp chats and found that the corruption was systemic and deep rooted with multiple associates in different state departments, the ED stated in the remand application.
The ED further claimed that the accused shared details of daily collection on WhatsApp and maintained excel sheets and chats on the flow of illegal cash money, which the IT department managed to retrieve.
The modus operandi
The ED stated that after going through the specific records shared by the IT department, it was revealed that that the syndicate collected illegal money in three different ways from the sale of liquor in Chhattisgarh.
First of all, illegal commission charged from the liquor suppliers for accounted sale of liquor in Chhattisgarh.
Secondly, sale of off-the-record unaccounted country liquor (popular in Chhattisgarh) from state run shops, which was done with the active involvement of distillers, hologram manufacturer, bottle maker, transporter, man-power management, district excise officials and thirdly, annual commission paid to allow distillers to operate in the state.
The ED claimed that they have collected the digital evidence available with the IT department and conducted a widespread search operation under section 17 of PMLA on March 23, 2023.
After the raids, they seized a large amount of incriminating evidence.
“From the investigation done till date, it is clear that massive corruption has occurred in the Excise Department of Chhattisgarh since 2019. The Excise Department was historically set up to regulate the supply of liquor, ensure quality liquor to users to prevent hooch tragedies and to earn revenue for the state. But the criminal syndicate led by Anwar Dhebar turned down all these objectives as they systematically altered liquor policy as per their whims and fancies and extorted maximum personal benefit for themselves,” the ED stated in their submitted document.
The ED further revealed that the excise policy in Chhattisgarh was amended in the year 2017 and The Chhattisgarh State Marketing Corporation Ltd (CSMCL) in February 2017, was thus created with the responsibility to retail liquor in Chhattisgarh through its own stores.
The CSMCL was established with the vision to provide genuine liquor, stop sale of illegal liquor, and provide liquor on MRP.
“With the advent of new policy in the state, the CSMCL was incorporated, and it established its own stores to retail the liquor/beer/wine/country liquor after procuring country liquor directly from manufacturers. The shops were supposed to be run by outsourced staff and cash collection was to be done by private vendors/bank representatives,” the ED stated.
The ED believed that a change in the state government led to the change of CSMCL management.
In February 2019, Arunpati Tripathi (ITS officer) was chosen to lead the organisation and later, in May 2019, he was made the managing director of the organisation at the behest of Anwar.
Tripathi was then assigned with the task to maximize the bribe commission collected on liquor procured by M/s CSMCL and make necessary arrangements for sale of non-duty paid liquor in the CSMCL run shops.
Tripathi was supported by Anwar and senior IAS officers and later, Anwar gave the task of cash collection to Vikas Agarwal alias Subbu and the logistics were set to be the responsibility of one Arvind Singh, the ED stated adding that the syndicate in furtherance of their plan gave the manpower supply contract to M/s Sumeet Facilities Ltd which was associated with Vikas Agarwal (associate of Anwar).
The agency stated that the contract to supply the holograms was also awarded to M/s Prizm Holography & Films Securities Pvt Ltd which was associated with Tripathi, and which readily agreed to the free supply of duplicate holograms to the syndicate.
The contract for cash collection was also awarded to M/s Tops Securities of M/s Siddhartha Singhania, another close associate of Vikas Agarwal (associate of Anwar).
The awarding of contracts to a willing partner ensured a stronghold of the syndicate on the system on all the wings of liquor business, namely, liquor manufacturers (a monopoly cartel of 3 distillers), agency revealed.
The ED investigation established that that in order to decide the quantum of commission on sale of country liquor, a meeting was called by Anwar in March, 2019 which was attended by promoter/director of the country liquor manufacturers viz M/s Chhattisgarh Distilleries Limited, M/s Bhatia Wines Merchants Private Limited and M/s Welcome Distilleries Private Limited along with MD Tripathi wherein the distillers were demanded to pay ₹75 per case commission against its procurement by M/s CSMCL and in return Anwar Dhebar promised to raise their landing rates proportionately.
This system was agreed upon and the syndicate started collecting a huge amount of commission on the sale of accounted liquor cases.
Each liquor case was purchased by MD CSMCL only; hence, all the data was always available and till the commission was not paid, the dues of the distillers were not cleared.
According to the statements given to ED, majority of the collected amount was given to Anwar.
The second modus operandi of the alleged scam, as explained by ED, was that a plan was made to manufacture and sell unaccounted illicit liquor in the state.
“It was a travesty and irony that this unaccounted liquor was sold from state-run shops. Duplicate holograms were provided. duplicate bottles were procured in cash. Liquor was transported directly from distiller to shops by-passing state warehouses. Excise officials were involved. Manpower was trained to sell unaccounted liquor. Entire sale was done in cash. No income tax, no excise duty were paid. The entire sale was off the books. Entire sale consideration,” the ED stated.
The ED investigation revealed that in the years between 2019-2022, this kind of illegal sale was almost 30-40% of the total sale of the liquor in the state.
For this purpose, the transportation of liquor from distillers to shops and supply of duplicate holograms to distillers was looked after by Arvind Singh.
Monthly targets were set by Anwar, who used to communicate them either directly to MD of the CSMCL or through Arvind Singh after which the senior excise officials used to coordinate with distillers, hologram makers, bottle makers, transporters and local excise officials to ensure that the entire system ran with ease.
The last mechanism of the alleged scam was introduced in April 2020, to extort bribes from foreign liquor makers by introducing the concept of Fl-10A licenses. These licenses were again given to three chosen associates of Anwar. These license holders were to act as the ‘collectors’ or intermediary and buy foreign liquor and then sell to Chhattisgarh government warehouses and generate commission of around 10% on even foreign liquor.
The ED lastly claimed that it was established that more than ₹2,000 crore of corruption money has been generated by this syndicate.