New Delhi: Granting undue financial favours to vendors taking liquor licenses, thereby causing losses of “over Rs 140 crore” to the state exchequer, receiving kickbacks in return for these favours, conniving with owners of several companies as part of a nexus — these are some of the allegations being probed by the CBI in its case against Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia and other Delhi government officials, ThePrint has learnt.
The central agency Friday morning raided 31 locations across seven states, including the residences of Sisodia, former Delhi excise commissioner Arava Gopi Krishna and three public servants, in connection with a probe into the national capital’s revamped excise policy.
On 22 July, Lieutenant Governor Vinai Kumar Saxena had recommended a CBI probe into the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government’s Excise Policy 2021-22, alleging “deliberate and gross procedural lapses”, according to an assessment report prepared by Chief Secretary Naresh Kumar.
According to sources, it was alleged that irregularities were committed including modifications in excise policy, extending undue favours to the licensees like waivers and reduction in the license fee, and extension of L-1 license (granted to business entities having wholesale distribution experience in liquor trade) without approval.
It was also alleged that kickbacks were received for these favours.
“It is suspected that using the excuse of businesses taking a hit during the pandemic, undue financial favours were granted to the vendors taking liquor licenses by waiving the license fee, which caused losses of over Rs 140 crore to the state,” a CBI source said.
“It is also alleged that kickbacks were received in exchange for these favours and the money was then used in the Punjab elections. All the allegations are being probed,” the source added.
Following directions from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) for an inquiry into the matter of alleged irregularities in framing and implementation of the excise policy, the CBI on 17 August registered a case against Sisodia, three government officials, 10 liquor licensees, and unknown others.
According to the CBI’s FIR — accessed by ThePrint — the named accused were instrumental in “recommending and taking decisions pertaining to excise policy for the year 2021-22 without the approval of the competent authority, with an intention to extend undue favours to the licensees post tender”.
Besides Sisodia, the other officials named in the FIR include Krishna, former deputy excise commissioner Anand Tiwari, and former assistant excise commissioner Pankaj Bhatnagar.
Searches in connection with the case were conducted in Delhi, Gurugram, Chandigarh, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Lucknow, and Bengaluru. Documents and digital records in connection with the excise policy were seized, agency sources said.
Reacting to the raids, Sisodia tweeted that he would cooperate with the CBI and that they would not find anything against him.
“CBI is here and they are welcome. We are honest and are helping make the future of lakhs of children. It is unfortunate that whoever tries to do good work in this country is harassed like this. This is the reason why our country has not become no.1 till now,” he tweeted Friday.
Also slamming the raids, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal blamed the Centre for trying to create obstacles before his government’s mission to “make India no. 1”.
On 20 July, L-G Saxena had written a letter to Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla, in which he stated that “undue benefits were extended to the existing licensees at the cost of the public exchequer, in violation of the rules and procedures”.
According to the letter — accessed by ThePrint — the L-G claimed that major changes in the annual license fee and changes in methodology to calculate the license fee were approved by a cabinet decision on 23 June 2021, but it was not submitted for his opinion, which is a violation.
The decisions taken by the excise department, the letter said, were “without the approval of the competent authority to extend undue favours to the licensees post tender”.
According to the letter, the excise department decided to refund an Earnest Money Deposit (EMD) amounting to Rs 30 crore in the case of license of the Airport Zone. This was done as the successful tendering was not able to obtain the NOC (no objection certificate) from airport authorities, which again is a violation, it added.
Furthermore, the L-G said that the department “revised the formula of calculation of rates of foreign liquor and removed the levy of import pass fee of Rs 50 per case on beer, which made foreign liquor as well as beer cheaper for retail licensees”.
“The extension of such benefits, post tender, amounts to extending undue favours to licensee”, he added.
The letter also said that the excise department allowed waiver on “tendered license fee, on account of Covid-19 pandemic between 28 December 2021 and 27 January 2022”, despite the fact that “no specific provision for compensation in the form of reduction in tendered license fee was available in the tender document”.
This, the L-G said, resulted in “undue benefits to the licensees and a loss of Rs 144.36 crore to the exchequer”.
According to CBI sources, the deputy CM and Delhi government officials allegedly connived with the owners of several companies and retailers to give them waivers in exchange of “monetary benefits”, and it was all part of a “nexus”.
The CBI FIR stated that Vijay Nair, former CEO of Only Much Louder, an entertainment and event management company — that is behind the comedy collectives ‘The East India Comedy’ and ‘All India Bakchod’ and has conducted events like NH7 Weekender — Manoj Rai, ex-employee of Pernod Ricard, Amandeep Dhal, owner of Brindco Spirits, and Sameer Mahendru, owner of Indospirits, are “actively involved in irregularities in framing and implementation of the excise policy”.
It also said that the CBI was informed about some L-1 license holders issuing credit notes to retail vendors with an intention to divert the funds as an “undue pecuniary advantage to public servants”. These license holders, the FIR added, are showing false entries in their accounts book to keep their record straight.
The report further stated that Amit Arora, director of Buddy Retail Pvt. Limited, and two others — Dinesh Arora and Arjun Pandey — in the same business are “close associates of Manish Sisodia” and are “actively involved in managing and diverting the undue pecuniary advantage collected from liquor licensees to the public servants accused”.
The FIR also said that Sameer Mahendru, MD of lndospirits, had allegedly transferred an amount of Rs 1 crore to an account of Radha Industries, which is being managed by Dinesh Arora. One Arun Ramchandra Pillai used to collect money from Mahendru that was to be given to public servants through Nair, it added.
“A person named Arjun Pandey has once collected a huge cash amount of about Rs 2-4 crore from Sameer Mahendru on behalf of Shri Vijay Nair,” the FIR read.
It was also alleged that Mahadev Liquors, a proprietorship firm, was granted L-1 license and its authorised signatory Sunny Marwah is in “close contact with accused public servants and has been regularly giving undue pecuniary advantages to them”.
(Edited by Siddarth Muralidharan)