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General elections: Ahead of crucial polls, Aam Aadmi Party hamstrung by Delhi excise policy setbacks

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Legal challenges for leaders of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leaders linked to the alleged Delhi excise policy scam show no signs of abating and do not appear to be nearing a resolution anytime soon.

Two senior leaders, including Delhi’s former deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia and Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh, are already behind bars over alleged involvement in corruption related to the now-repealed Delhi liquor policy.

This comes with Delhi’s Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal being summoned by a Delhi Court on Wednesday to appear before it after he evaded multiple summons by the Enforcement Directorate (ED), calling them ‘illegal’.

Now with the AAP supremo facing the ED’s heat and under the Court’s scanner, the crucial question remains: Will this impact the Aam Aadmi Party’s prospects in the forthcoming elections?

According to the probe agencies, the Delhi government’s excise policy for 2021-22, which granted licences to liquor traders, allowed cartelisation and favoured certain dealers who had allegedly paid bribes for it. The policy was scrapped, and Lieutenant Governor of Delhi VK Saxena, who had recommended a Central Bureau of Investigation probe, followed which the ED had registered a case under the PMLA.

Here’s a glimpse into the fate of these three leaders concerning the investigation into the excise policy:

MANISH SISODIA

Manish Sisodia was arrested by both the CBI and the ED, and since then, his time has been rife with setbacks.

Manish Sisodia was arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on February 26, 2023, for alleged corruption in the formulation and implementation of the Delhi Excise Policy 2021-22 after multiple rounds of questioning.

He is presently under investigation by both the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) for alleged corruption and money laundering.

Shortly after, the ED arrested Sisodia in a money laundering case stemming from the FIR filed by the CBI on March 9 last year, following questioning in Tihar Jail. Sisodia resigned from the Delhi cabinet on February 28.

On March 31, the trial court dismissed Sisodia’s bail application in a corruption case investigated by the CBI, referring to him as the prima facie architect of the alleged liquor scam. This was followed by the dismissal of bail in the ED case as well.

When this decision was contested before the Delhi High Court, the judge refused to grant him bail, stating that the allegations against him were “very serious in nature” and that the excise policy was formed “in conspiracy for undue advantage.”

This was despite Sisodia’s lawyers arguing that Sisodia had been singled out in the case and he was being accused of conspiracy in relation to a policy that was vetted by others.

While the top court had told the CBI and ED that they cannot keep Sisodia in jail for an “indefinite period”, the Supreme Court eventually dismissed his bail pleas in both corruption and money-laundering cases.

The top court denied him relief and, while dictating its order, stated that a money trail of Rs 338 crore was “tentatively established” in the case.

SC, however, allowed Sisodia to move for bail again within three months if the trial proceeds sloppily or slowly.

In a minor relief, Sisodia was recently allowed custody parole of one day every week to meet his ailing wife.

Manish Sisodia recently filed a bail plea before Rouse Avenue Court, which is still pending before the court. His curative petition against the denial of bail by the Supreme Court is also pending before the top court.

SANJAY SINGH

AAP Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh was arrested in the Delhi excise policy case last year.

Singh was arrested by the ED on October 4, 2023, in connection with the Delhi excise policy case, following over 10 hours of questioning at his Delhi residence regarding a money laundering case linked to the Delhi liquor policy.

Singh was initially remanded to ED custody until October 10, later extended until October 13. Subsequently, he was transferred to judicial custody for 14 days. The ED filed a supplementary chargesheet, naming Singh as an accused, alleging his involvement in conspiracy, money laundering, and aiding the other accused.

In October, the Delhi High Court dismissed Sanjay Singh’s plea challenging his arrest by the Enforcement Directorate and the subsequent remand that followed. The court stated that there was nothing on record to suggest that the statement made by approver Dinesh Arora, which led to the arrest of Sanjay Singh, had been made under any duress.

Delhi’s Rouse Avenue court later in December last year denied bail to Sanjay Singh, stating that the case against him “is genuine” and the evidence presented showed his involvement in the alleged money laundering.

According to the court, the material presented showed that Sanjay Singh was “directly or indirectly involved in the process or activities connected with the proceeds of crime” generated through the alleged money laundering.

Sanjay Singh’s lawyers maintained that the case against him is politically motivated and there is no money trail against him. They also questioned whether the statements of accused-turned-approver Dinesh Arora could be trusted.

On February 7, in yet another major setback, the Delhi High Court denied Singh bail, saying no ground for grant of bail at this stage is made out.

ARVIND KEJRIWAL

The third AAP leader who is under the ED’s scanner in the excise policy case is the Delhi Chief Minister and the national convenor of the Aam Aadmi Party.

Kejriwal had skipped five summons by the probe agency ED, calling them “illegal attempts” to arrest him. He claimed that the summons were aimed at preventing him from campaigning in elections.

After Kejriwal refused to appear before the ED, the agency filed a complaint against the Chief Minister in Rouse Avenue Court under Section 174 of the IPC for non-attendance in obedience to an order from a public servant and Section 50 of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act for non-compliance with summons issued by the ED.

The court on Wednesday issued a summons to him, to appear on February 17.

The court said that under Section 50 of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), probe agencies “have the power to summon any person during an investigation whose attendance may be considered necessary for giving evidence or to produce records”.

And thus, the Chief Minister was “bound to comply” with such a summons “by virtue of Section 50(3) of the Act”, the court said.

“By virtue of Section 50(3) of the Act, respondent of the summonses (Kejriwal) and the proposed accused was legally bound to attend in person in pursuance of the same, but purportedly he failed to do so,” it said.

Published By:

Srishti Jha

Published On:

Feb 9, 2024

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