A special CBI court on Monday remanded Delhi deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia in five-day custody of the central probe agency till March 4, a day after his arrest in the excise scam case. Special judge MK Nagpal allowed the CBI’s plea for the custodial interrogation of Sisodia.
The Central Bureau of Investigation has five days of custody to question Sisodia in the case. And CNN-News18 has learnt the five big questions the agency wants the Aam Aadmi Party leader to answer.
1) Money trail
CBI alleges that a quid pro quo deal was struck with the South Group, comprising Andhra Pradesh Member of Parliament (MP) and YSR Congress leader Magunta Srinivasulu Reddy, his son Raghav Magunta, Telangana MLC and Bharat Rashtra Samithi leader Kalvakuntla Kavitha, and businessman Sarath Reddy, the promoter of Aurobindo Group. This group allegedly paid an advance kickback of Rs 100 crore to accused Vijay Nair. Nair, a social media publicist for AAP and CEO of event management company Only Much Louder, has been called a close associate of Manish Sisodia. “In 1st week of March 2021, Vijay Nair met liquor manufacturers, including members of South Group, seeking commission for favourable excise policy," a CBI official claimed.
The agency says it has evidence to prove that between July and September 2021, Rs 20 to 30 crore were paid to Vijay Nair by accused Abhishek Boinpally via accused-turned-approver Dinesh Arora.
The CBI suspects that the final “advance kickback amount" of Rs 100 crore was diverted by Nair to Aam Aadmi Party’s election funds and used in the Goa polls of 2021. The CBI has alleged it has evidence that Rs 70 lakh was paid in cash to AAP volunteers for the survey. The agency claims that payments for advertising, hoardings, etc, were also allegedly made in cash and false bills raised to maintain the accounts. The CBI wants Sisodia to answer if he was aware of the deals done by Vijay Nair. “We also want to know how the rest of the money was utilised or if it is still stashed somewhere," an officer said.
2) Undue favours to accused
The CBI alleges that the entire new excise policy was designed to aid the South Group. The agency wants Sisodia to answer why he asked the then excise commissioner to approve a second liquor licence application filed by accused Sameer Mahendru’s Indospirit. Mahendru, as per the CBI, had formed a “super cartel" with the alleged South Group to control nine out of 32 retail zones in Delhi’s liquor business. Objections were raised by experts about the application filed by Mahendru to circumvent which a second application was filed and Sisodia allegedly gave instructions that the second application be processed and the liquor licence granted. “How did the minister know that a second application has been submitted? He had no reason to be aware of this application in the normal course," a CBI official said.
3) 12% profit a conspiracy to aid cartelisation, monopoly?
The CBI wants Sisodia to answer if the decision to include 12% profit for wholesalers was taken at the behest of the co-accused in this case. The agency claims it has evidence to prove that the South Group met at a Delhi hotel in March 2021, just days before the GOM approved a 12% profit. The agency also claims that the documents presented by Sisodia to the GOM were identical to those printed and photocopied by the South Group at the business centre of this hotel. “From 14-17th March 2021, South Group stayed at a hotel in south Delhi. They used the business centre of the hotel to print and photocopy the documents of excise policy. A day later, on 18th March 2021, Manish Sisodia handed over a document to his then-secretary which was a draft of the GOM recommendation for excise policy. This document had an identical number of pages as the number of pages photocopied by South Group in the hotel," a CBI official said.
The agency also claims that it has recovered chats from the South Group members which show that the excise policy was tweaked at their behest. The CBI claims it has documents seized from Sisodia’s computer dated 15th March which show the GOM was considering a 5% margin. However, the final GOM proposal of 22nd March had hiked the margin to 12%. Two other suggestions found in the chat of the co-accused were also found in the final GOM document that Sisodia presented, CBI officials said. The agency wants the Delhi deputy CM to explain the similarities between what the beneficiaries proposed and what the government approved.
4) Missing file
The CBI wants Sisodia to answer where the file, which had views of legal experts on the expert committee recommendations, has disappeared. “The view of legal experts was to be presented to the council of ministers but the documents remain untraceable and instead we find a new GOM which superseded the expert committee and legal experts," a CBI official said.
5) GOM part of conspiracy to aid accused?
The expert committee was set up to suggest changes in the excise policy 2021-22. The committee did not recommend zonal licences at retail level or privatisation of the wholesale market. The CBI alleges that this proposal from the expert committee was “not to the liking of excise minister Manish Sisodia". The committee’s recommendation was however put up for public comments and legal opinion also taken. In February 2021, the GOM met, but the CBI says, “There was no discussion on wholesale model."
The discussion and GOM approval of 12% profit margin for wholesalers happened in the third week of March soon after Vijay Nair allegedly met the co-accused in the case, the CBI says.
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