Delhi Excise Policy Scam: Deputy CM Sisodia Arrested by CBI; A Timeline of How Liquorgate Unfolded

Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia was arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Sunday, seven hours after he was questioned by the central agency in connection to the excise policy scam case.

The CBI on Sunday began its second round of questioning of Sisodia in connection with the excise policy scam case.

The senior Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader arrived at the heavily-barricaded CBI office earlier in the day after paying homage to Mahatma Gandhi at Raj Ghat. In an emotional speech, Sisodia maintained that the allegations against him were false and said he was prepared to go to jail over “false allegations”.

Here’s a timeline of the excise policy scam:

The AAP-led government implemented the new liquor policy in November 2021 in Delhi. The policy was made based on a report by an expert committee under the chairmanship of the Excise Commissioner which was constituted vide an order dated September 4, 2020.

The Delhi Excise Policy drastically altered the way liquor is sold in the city, with private players taking over the retail business instead of the government.

The Excise Policy 2021-22 was withdrawn by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government on July 31 after a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe was recommended by Delhi Lieutenant Governor (LG) VK Saxena into “violation of norms and lapses.”

Sisodia and 14 others were “accused” in an FIR by the CBI for criminal conspiracy and corruption over alleged large-scale irregularities in the framing and implementation of excise policy on August 17.

The CBI alleged that irregularities were committed, including modifications in Excise Policy, extending undue favours to the licensees, waiver/reduction in licence fee, the extension of L-1 license without approval, among other charges.

According to the FIR, Sisodia, then commissioner (excise) Arva Gopi Krishna, along with former deputy and assistant commissioners Anand Tiwari and Pankaj Bhatnagar, were instrumental in recommending and taking decisions regarding the excise policy for 2021-22 without approval from a competent authority to extend undue favours to the licensees “post tender”.

The CBI filed a chargesheet against seven people, including middlemen and liquor traders, in November, alleging that the Delhi government’s policy to grant licences to liquor traders favoured certain dealers who had allegedly paid bribes for it.

The accused persons are Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) communications in-charge Vijay Nair, Hyderabad-based businessman Abhishek Boinpally, liquor businessman Sameer Mahendru, former Excise Department officials Kuldeep Singh and Narender Singh, and Mootha Goutam and Arun Ramchandra Pillai.

It was also alleged that illegal gains on the count of these acts were diverted to concerned public servants by private parties by making false entries in their books of accounts.

The CBI called Sisodia for questioning in connection with the excise policy case on October 17, 2022.

The deputy chief minister, who also held the charge of the excise department, was first questioned by the federal agency and his house as well as bank lockers, were also searched in connection with the case.

After the searches, Sisodia claimed nothing incriminating was found against him during the raids and he would continue to cooperate in the investigation. “The CBI has called me again tomorrow. They have used the full power of the CBI, the ED against me, raided my house, searched bank lockers, but nothing was found against me,” he said.

A Delhi court on December 15 took cognizance of a charge sheet filed by the CBI against seven people saying “sufficient grounds have been found for proceeding further” against them.

The CBI focused on the alleged influence of a “south lobby” of businessmen and politicians on the formulation and implementation of the liquor policy to swing it in their favour, using middlemen, liquor traders and public servants.

On February 8, the CBI arrested Butchibabu Gorantla, a former Chartered Accountant of K Kavitha, a BRS MLC in Telangana and a daughter of Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao. According to officials, Babu had met several accused named in the FIR in Delhi, Hyderabad, and Mumbai and was one of the prime negotiators from the South Lobby, which wanted to swing the now-scrapped excise policy for 2021-22 in its favour. The CBI had found evidence that Babu acted on behalf of the South Lobby comprising the Telangana MLC, Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party MP Magunta Srinivasulu Reddy, and Aurobindo Pharma’s P Sarat Chandra Reddy

CBI originally summoned Sisodia on February 19 but he sought deferment of his questioning citing the ongoing Budget exercise, following which the CBI had asked him to appear on February 26.

Ahead of his questioning, the AAP had said it was likely that the CBI would arrest Sisodia on false charges.

The senior Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader arrived at the heavily-barricaded CBI office earlier in the day after paying homage to Mahatma Gandhi at Raj Ghat and addressing AAP workers. “I can go to jail a number of times and I am not afraid. When I left my job as a journalist, my wife supported me and even today, my family is standing by my side. My workers will take care of my family if I get arrested,” he was quoted as saying.

On Sunday, after eight hours of questioning, Sisodia was arrested by the CBI under the Prevention of Corruption Act.

Officials questioned Sisodia on his incriminating role based on evidence collected during the investigation of the case, a statement read. “However, he gave evasive replies and did not co-operate the investigation despite being confronted with evidence to the contrary.  Therefore, he has been arrested,” it stated, adding, “The arrested accused will be produced before the Designated Court, Delhi.”

CBI sources said Sisodia could not answer when asked about crucial files that have gone missing. “Sisodia changed multiple mobile phones once the investigation began, they could have crucial evidence pertaining to the case. Those mobiles have to be recovered. Witnesses have to be confronted.”

Addressing accusations of a “political” arrest, CBI officials said if such was the case, then it would not have waited for so long for Sisodia’s arrest. “Section 41A of CrPC provides for custodial interrogation. Flight risk isn’t the only criteria. Fresh evidence emerged in the CBI probe. If this was political, then CBI would not have waited for so long. Investigative Officer took a decision based on evidence.”

Following his arrest, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said called the matter “dirty politics” and asserted that Sisodia was innocent. “Manish is innocent. His arrest is dirty politics. His arrest has angered people quite a lot. People are watching everything. People now understand everything and will give a reply to this. It will boost our spirit and our struggle will only get stronger,” Kejriwal said in a tweet in Hindi.

AAP MP Sanjay Singh said Sisodia’s arrest was the height of dictatorship. “Sisodia’s arrest is the height of dictatorship. You have arrested a good person and best education minister which is not the right thing, Modi ji. God will not forgive you. One day, your dictatorship will definitely end, Modi ji,” Singh said in a tweet in Hindi.

Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) spokesperson and MLA Atishi said Sisodia was arrested because of growing popularity of the party and its leader Arvind Kejriwal, a stance maintained by the Kejriwal-led party throughout the case.

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