Delhi excise policy scam: CBI questions Deputy CM Manish Sisodia

Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia speaks with media on his return from the CBI headquarters after questioning in connection with the Delhi excise policy probe. AAP leader Atishi Marlena is also seen. Photo: PTI

New Delhi: The CBI on Monday questioned Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia in connection with the Delhi excise scam case for over nine hours, officials said.

Sisodia had arrived at the agency's headquarters around 11.15 am and was taken straight to the anti-corruption branch office on the first floor, they said.

The deputy chief minister was grilled for over nine hours on various aspects of the Delhi government's excise policy, his relations with other accused, including businessman and AAP volunteer Vijay Nair, and documents recovered during searches in the case, the officials said.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader left the agency's office in his white electric SUV without speaking to reporters waiting outside.

Sources said that no notice has been issued to him to appear on Tuesday.

The agency also questioned Raghava Reddy, the son of YSRCP Lok Sabha MP Magunta Sreenivasulu Reddy, in the case, they said.

Later, speaking to reporters, Sisodia claimed that he was pressured to leave the AAP and was offered the Delhi chief minister's post.

Central Bureau of Investigation. Photo: Shutterstock

"BJP says there is a Rs 10,000 crore excise scam. I found at CBI office that there is no scam and the case is fake. The fake case against me is a conspiracy to make BJP's 'Operation Lotus' a success in Delhi," he said.

"Pressure was put on me to quit the AAP. I was offered the Delhi chief minister's post or face jail term," Sisodia said, adding that "when I said that there was nothing in the case against me, I was told there was no case against even Satyendra Jain yet he was in jail".

"They said why I was in the AAP and offered me the post of Delhi CM to quit the party. They said I could go to jail and the case against me will continue. I said I had joined politics not to become chief minister, I came to politics to work honestly. I clearly said that I am happy when a rickshaw puller's son becomes an engineer and not thinking of becoming CM," he said.

The CBI refuted the allegation levelled by Sisodia that during his questioning, he was threatened to quit the AAP.

"The CBI strongly refutes these allegations and reiterates that examination of Sisodia was carried out in a professional and legal manner strictly as per the allegations against him in the FIR. The investigation of the case will continue as per the law," the agency said in a statement.

Sisodia was examined strictly on the allegations in the FIR and the evidence collected so far during the course of investigation, it said.

"His statement will be verified in due course and further action taken as per requirements of investigation," the agency said.

The CBI had registered an FIR in a special court here in August against Sisodia and 14 others under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), including 120B (criminal conspiracy) and 477A (falsification of records), and section 7 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, which deals with taking undue advantage to influence a public servant by corrupt or illegal means or by the exercise of personal influence.

Before arriving for questioning, Sisodia went to his party office in the morning from where he proceeded to Rajghat. A large number of his supporters gathered outside his residence and joined him on the way to the CBI office near the JLN Stadium.

Several AAP leaders and workers, including MLA Atishi and MP Sanjay Singh, held a protest at the Delhi Police barricading near the stadium. Singh was later detained by police and removed from the protest site.

Delhi Lieutenant Governor Vinai Kumar Saxena had recommended a CBI probe into alleged irregularities in the formulation and execution of the Delhi excise policy, which was brought out in November last year, the officials said.

Following the registration of the FIR, the CBI had conducted searches at the premises of Sisodia and opened his locker at a bank in Ghaziabad, they said.

The FIR registered on August 17 has flagged payments in crores allegedly made to "close associates" of Sisodia by Sameer Mahendru -- the owner of Indospirits -- one of the liquor traders actively involved in irregularities in the framing and implementation of the excise policy.

It alleged that Sisodia's "close associates" Amit Arora, the director of Buddy Retail Pvt. Limited in Gurugram, Dinesh Arora and Arjun Pandey were "actively involved in managing and diverting the undue pecuniary advantage collected from liquor licensees" for the accused public servants.

The CBI inquiry was recommended on the findings of the Delhi chief secretary's report filed in July showing prima facie violations of the GNCTD Act 1991, Transaction of Business Rules (ToBR)-1993, Delhi Excise Act-2009 and Delhi Excise Rules-2010, the officials said.

According to them, the report had shown prima facie violations, including "deliberate and gross procedural lapses", to provide post-tender "undue benefits to liquor licensees" through the policy.

The excise department gave a waiver of Rs 144.36 crore to the licensees on the tendered licence fee on the excuse of COVID-19, sources claimed. They added that it also refunded the earnest money of Rs 30 crore to the lowest bidder for the licence of the airport zone when it failed to obtain a no-objection certificate (NOC) from airport authorities.

The Excise Policy 2021-22, formulated on the basis of an expert committee report, was implemented from November 17 last year and retail licences were issued under it to private bidders for 849 vends across the city, divided into 32 zones.

However, under the policy, many liquor stores failed to open for being located in non-conforming areas of the city. Several such vends were sealed by municipal corporations for violations of the Master Plan.

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