Kerala finance minister KM Mani was on Thursday booked by a special cell of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau in the bar bribe scam, leaving the Oommen Chandy Government red-faced.
After a preliminary inquiry, involving taking statement from the minister himself, the vigilance cell filed an FIR under the Prevention of Corruption Act. It has been alleged that Mani accepted R50 lakh as bribe from bar owners.
Mani’s party KC(M), the third largest component in the ruling Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF), enjoys powerful support base in central Kerala.
Biju Ramesh, working president, Kerala Bar Hotels Association, had alleged that they had paid R1 crore to Mani in three instalments. This, according to him, was for renewal of expired liquor retail licences. The alleged bribe was paid prior to the closure of 418 ‘sub-standard’ bars in April, he had said.
Following the bar owner’s allegations, it was a set of letters from Leader of the Opposition VS Achuthanandan to chief minister Oommen Chandy and home minister Ramesh Chennithala, seeking a vigilance probe that triggered the inquiry into the scam. Vigilance officials had received legal advice that an FIR should be registered within 45 days of starting the preliminary probe in such cases.
Opposition Left Democratic Front has been quick to launch a state-wide agitation over the corruption issue. The assembly session is on and there is an ongoing mele seeking resignation of the finance minister to face the investigation.
Meanwhile, KM Mani, who is in New Delhi to attend a meeting of state finance ministers convened by Union finance minister Arun Jaitley, brushed aside speculations that he would resign. “There was hardly anything new in filing FIRs against ministers. There has been such instances in the past too,” he told mediapersons, reacting to the filing of the FIR.
The longest serving member of Kerala Legislative Assembly, the 80-year old Mani is in his seventh tenure in the state Cabinet and has presented as many as 12 Budgets.