Bar bribery: Court rejects report which absolved Mani

Bar bribery: Court rejects report which absolved Mani

 Kerala Congress (M) chief and former finance minister K M Mani. Image courtesy Twitter

The Vigilance Court in Thiruvananthapuram on Tuesday rejected a report by the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau (VACB) that gave a clean chit to Kerala Congress (M) chief and former finance minister K M Mani in the bar bribery case.

The case pertains to the allegation that Mani, during his tenure as finance minister in the previous Congress-led government, accepted Rs one crore as bribe from bar owners in connection with the issuance of fresh licences. The report, the third by VACB in connection with the scam, had said there was no evidence to validate the allegation. The court posted the matter to December 10 and directed the agency to take the state government’s permission to initiate a further inquiry.

The scandal broke after hotelier and bar owner Biju Ramesh alleged, in October 2014, that the then finance minister demanded and accepted the bribe for reopening over 300 bars closed bars. After a series of protests by the CPM-led opposition and signs of dissent from within the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) and adverse remarks from the High Court, Mani resigned in November 2015.

In August 2016, the vigilance court ordered a follow-up probe in the case, after hearing a petition by then VACB SP R Sukesan who claimed that he was “forced” to prepare a fact-finding report exonerating Mani. Sukesan who was in charge of the investigation had originally submitted a report stating there was evidence to prosecute Mani; he, however, followed it up with another report that gave a clean chit to the veteran leader.

Reacting to the court order, Mani said he was ready to face another probe. “The case was investigated, both under the UDF and LDF governments and three reports were submitted stating there was no evidence against me,” he said. Mani left the UDF in 2016, citing differences with some of the Congress leaders, but returned in June this year. The stand of the CPM-led Left government will now be in focus as it decides on possibilities of a follow-up probe.