Bar bribe row: Vigilance to look into charge against Ker FM

Bar bribe row: Vigilance to look into charge against Ker FM

With the "bar bribe row" denting its image, the Congress-led UDF government in Kerala today asked the Vigilance and Anti-corruption Bureau (VACB) to look into the allegation by bar owners that state Finance Minister and Kerala Congress (M) supremo K M Mani had demanded and taken bribe for favourable decisions.

State Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala said the VACB has been asked to hold a "preliminary inquiry" to ascertain if there was any substance in the allegation based on a letter from Opposition Leader V S Achuthanandan.

Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, while sticking to his stand that no one would believe that Mani would ask for bribe, said the probe announced by Chennithala was only a "legal procedure".

Seeking to play down the development, senior Kerala Congress (M) leader and Water Resources Minister P J Joseph claimed that what the Home Minister announced was not a vigilance inquiry, but only an instruction to the investigating agency to "verify" the charge in the light opposition's demand for an inquiry.

Rubbishing suggestions that the CPI(M) state leadership has been "soft" towards Mani, apparently eying a future realignment, party state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan demanded the Minister's resignation in view of the probe.

In a statement, he also wanted the probe to cover the alleged role of Chandy and Excise Minister K Babu in the controversy.

Achuthanandan, who yesterday wrote to Vigilance on the issue, said only a CBI inquiry would help the truth to be brought out.

Biju Ramesh, working President of Kerala Bar Hotels Association, alleged that Mani had taken Rs one crore and demanded Rs five crore on the promise of reopening 418 closed bars from owners.

Reacting to the government move, Ramesh said the vigilance probe would end up as a "farce" and demanded a CBI probe into the issue.

Mani, a veteran politician and supremo of Kerala Congress (M), a long-time partner of the Congress-led coalition, had yesterday rubbished the charge as "baseless".

In a significant move, the Chandy government had a few months back ordered closure of all bars, except those attached to five-star hotels. Earlier, the government had declined to renew licences of 418 bars for lack of required facilities.
The issue had divided UDF with KPCC president V M Sudheeran pitching for taking the state into total prohibition in a phased manner.

The bar owners had approached the Supreme Court against the government decision, but the apex court referred back the case to the High Court.

Two days back, a division bench of Kerala High Court stayed for a month an earlier single bench decision, which partly endorsed the government position on the issue.

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