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Kerala bar bribery: High Court backs probe, pressure on Mani to quit


Kerala Finance Minister K M Mani may have to resign after the High Court endorsed an order to further investigate the bar bribery case.

Disposing of a plea from the Kerala Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau to quash the Vigilance court order, Justice B Kamal Pasha said: “Caesar’s wife should be above suspicion. People will have anxiety about any further probe if the minister continues… I leave it to the conscience of the accused person whether to continue as a minister.”

The ruling led to loud calls from the Opposition and a section of the ruling coalition for the resignation of Mani, who heads the Kerala Congress (M). The 82-year-old is also chairman of the national panel of state finance ministers on Goods and Services Tax (GST).

Mani told reporters that his party would discuss the ruling and the bar bribery case on Tuesday. Sources said a decision on Mani’s resignation would be taken after the meeting. State Congress chief V M Sudheeran said the party took the court verdict “very seriously” and added that the ruling alliance would discuss the issue on Tuesday.

However, CPI(M) veteran V S Achuthanandan said Mani should quit if he had any “self-respect left”. The Congress government had deployed senior Supreme Court lawyer and former union minister Kapil Sibal along with Advocate-General K P Dandapani to defend Mani, who is also the state law minister.

The scandal surfaced last year after Mani was accused of taking a INR 1 crore bribe to renew liquor licences of 418 bars that were originally identified as sub-standard.

On Monday, the court asked the Advocate-General why the government was worried about further probe, saying the common man cannot be faulted if he has apprehensions about spending taxpayers’ money for defending a minister facing corruption charges. The court also criticised Vigilance director Vinson M Paul for not examining “the materials and evidences collected by the investigating officer”.

After the Opposition Left front emerged victorious in the civic polls last week, several Congress leaders had said that the bar bribery scandal was a major factor that contributed to the ruling alliance’s rout. The scandal surfaced last year after the state’s bar hotel owners association chief Biju Ramesh alleged that Mani had taken a bribe of Rs 1 crore to renew liquor licences of 418 bars that were originally identified as sub-standard. Following the allegation, Achuthanandan had sent a complaint to the Vigilance bureau, seeking a probe against Mani — this led to an FIR being registered.

In July, a Vigilance officer submitted a report in court seeking its permission to close the case. On October 29, the Vigilance court judge rejected the report saying there was enough evidence to initiate an investigation against Mani.

Source: Indian Express

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