Even as the Delhi liquor scam case continues to shake the nation’s politics, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) has claimed that it has unearthed a similar liquor scam worth more than Rs 2,000 crore in Chhattisgarh.
The federal anti-money laundering agency has claimed that an IAS officer and a liquor baron are the the prime accused of the alleged scam.
Liquor baron Anwar Dhebar, the brother of Congress leader and Raipur Mayor Aijaz Dhebar, was arrested in the case by the ED on Saturday.
A day after Dhebar’s arrest, the ED said that it has found evidence of “unprecedented corruption”. According to the ED, Anwar Dhebar led a criminal syndicate for illegal supply of liquor, and collected and laundered around Rs 2,000 crore from 2019 to 2022 with the backing of high-level politicians, private persons and senior bureaucrats in the state.
Defending his brother, Aijaz told The Indian Express, “If they (ED) are making such allegations, tell them to provide evidence. Where is the laundered money?”
An ED source said that Anwar Dhebar had formed a syndicate of persons/ entities to execute the scam so that money was illegally collected from every bottle of liquor sold in the state.
The agency said that IAS officer Anil Tuteja, posted as joint secretary in the state’s industry and commerce department, and Anwar Dhebar were the “kingpins” of the syndicate.
What is the Chhattisgarh liquor ‘scam’?
As per the ED, in Chhattisgarh the state controls “all aspects” of liquor trade from procurement to retail sale to consumers. No private liquor shops are allowed in Chhattisgarh and the government runs all 800 liquor shops. The Chhattisgarh State Marketing Corporation Limited (CSMCL) is responsible for procuring all the liquor sold in the state. The CSMCL issues tenders for manpower suppliers, who run the shops, cash collection tenders, and selects bottle makers and hologram makers.
The ED source added that with the backing of the political executives, Anwar Dhebar managed to get involved in the CSMCL. The syndicate charged a commission of Rs 75-150 per case from the suppliers for liquor procured by the CSMCL.
Then, Anwar Dhebar started getting manufactured unaccounted countrymade off-the books liquor and sold it through government run shops.
“This way the syndicate could keep the entire sale proceeds without depositing even one rupee in the state exchequer. Duplicate holograms were provided, and duplicate bottles were procured in cash. Liquor was transported directly from distiller to shops bypassing state warehouses. Manpower was trained to sell unaccounted liquor. Entire sale was done in cash. Entire sale was off the books and sale consideration was siphoned off with everyone in the illegal chain getting its share including – distiller, transporter, hologram maker, bottle maker, excise officials including higher echelons there, senior IAS officer (s) and politicians,” the ED said in a statement, adding that excise departments are mandated to regulate the supply of liquor, ensure quality liquor to users, prevent hooch tragedies, and earn revenue for the state. But, the probe revealed that the syndicate has thrown all these objectives out of the window.
The ED also alleged that it has evidence of an exchange of Rs 14.41 crore between the liquor baron and the IAS officer.
Earlier, the ED had conducted raids at 35 locations across Chhattisgarh, West Bengal and Delhi, including the residences of Anwar Dhebar.
According to the ED source, Anwar was summoned on seven occasions, but he did not join the probe. He was finally arrested by the ED on Saturday from a hotel in Raipur while he was trying to escape from the back door.
Bhupesh Baghel rubbishes allegations
Meanwhile, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel has rubbished the allegations and accused the BJP for hatching a conspiracy against the state government.
“With the state Assembly polls scheduled for this year-end, the disgruntled BJP is trying to defame the Congress-led state government using the ED”, he claimed.
Bhagel said that it was the Raman Singh-led BJP government’s decision to sell liquor through a corporation in 2017 in the state and there were no further amendments made since then. “The revenue collection from liquor increased from Rs 3,900 crore in 2017-18 to Rs 6,000 crore in 2022-23 which clearly shows that the ED’s claim of a decline in revenue collection due to alleged corruption is false and baseless,” Baghel said.
The CM also stated that the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) has conducted audits of the state’s excise department and given it a clean chit.
The BJP, in its response said that along with looting the exchequer, the health of the public has also been put at risk as fake liquor was sold in government shops. “The scam has exposed Bhupesh Bhagal’s corrupt ways,” said BJP MP Santosh Pandey.
AAP demands CM’s arrest
Meanwhile, without losing any opportunity to target the Congress, the Aam Aadmi Party on Monday demanded that the ED arrest Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel and probe his role in the alleged liquor scam in the state.
“To run such a syndicate, the backing of a big political leader is required. The pattern of the scam directly points fingers at the chief minister of the state,” Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader and Delhi Minister Saurabh Bharadwaj said at a press conference.