Bar scam: LDF seeks probe into graft charges raised by Biju Ramesh against UDF leaders

Bar scam: LDF seeks probe into graft charges raised by Biju Ramesh against UDF leaders
LDF convener A Vijayaraghavan
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Thiruvananthapuram: The ruling Left Democratic Front on Tuesday sought a comprehensive probe into the allegation raised by a former acting president of Kerala Bar Hotel Association that many UDF leaders had accepted bribe in 2015 to expedite the relicensing of more than 300 bars closed by the then Oommen Chandy government.

Hotelier Biju Ramesh, a former office bearer of KBHA, had yesterday alleged that the bar hotel owners had collected and paid bribes to at least three prominent Congress leaders other than the then Finance Minister K M Mani to open their businesses.

He had named Mani as a respondent in his complaint to an anti-corruption court here in 2015.

"A thorough investigation shouldbe conducted into the revelation made by Biju Ramesh that during the UDF tenure, the amount collected from bar owners were distributed among leaders including Ramesh Chennithala on the instructionsof the then state excise minister K Babu," LDF convener A Vijayaraghavan said in a statement.

Biju Ramesh claimed that during the UDF governments tenure, bar owners had raised Rs 20 crore, of which some amount was allegedly given to the then health minister V S Sivakumar and to the KPCC office of Chennithala, to reduce the bar licence fees.

"We my manager Radhakrishnan and Bar Association secretary Santhosh and I had gone together to the house of V S Sivakumar to give Rs 25 lakh. We also went to KPCC president Ramesh Chennithalas office and gave Rs one crore. In all, Rs two crore was given to KPCC," Biju Ramesh alleged in a TV interview.

However, Chennithala on Tuesday dismissed the allegations and said these accusations were rejected even by the probe agency.

"The same allegation was raised when I was the KPCC president and was rejected then and there itself. The vigilance which was probing the matter had also rejected these charges," Chennithala told the media without elaborating.

Asked about the hotelier's allegation, chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan had on Monday said he was not fully seized of the merit of the allegation but the accusation appeared to warrant a probe.

"The revelation made by Biju Ramesh that Rs 1 crore was given at Chennithala's office, Rs 50 lakh at Minister K Babu's office and Rs 25 lakh at the then health minister V S Shivakumar's office, are very serious. If probed, shocking details of black money dealings worth crores of rupees of former ministers and the Opposition Leader Ramesh Chennithala will come out," Vijayaraghavan said in the statement.

He said already UDF MLAs P T Thomas and K M Shaji are being investigated in alleged black money dealings.

"The case related to K Babu under disproportionate assets are under trial by the court. The infamous Palarivattom bridge scam case is against former PWD minister V K Ibrahim Kunju. Another MLA M C Kamaruddin is an accused in a jewellery scam amounting to crores. Now there are allegations against Chennithala and V S Shivakumar," Vijayaraghavan said.

Meanwhile, the state BJP alleged that the chief minister is not strong enough to probe the allegation of Rs one 1 bribe to Leader of Opposition in the assembly Ramesh Chennithala.

"The allegation by Biju Ramesh, that he had given bribe to V S Shivakumar, K Babu and to the KPCC office, is a serious one," BJP state chief K Surendran said.

The bar bribery case, which was being heard by the Kerala High Court, had ended following Manis demise in April last year.

The scandal had damaged Mani's political image as well as that of the UDF government. Mani had to resign as Finance Minister a year before the UDFs term came to an end.

The bar scandal in 2015 came to the limelight following allegations that Mani demanded Rs 5 crore from KBHA to renew licenses of bars closed by the Oommen Chandy government.

(With PTI inputs)

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