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Kerala court trashes clean chit to Mani, orders fresh probe

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Thiruvananthapuram: The Special Vigilance Court here on Thursday quashed the clean chit the vigilance department gave to state Finance Minister K.M. Mani in the alleged bar scam and asked for a further probe.

Reacting to the verdict, Mani welcomed further probe into the case.

“I have always wanted the truth to come out and now I am happy that the court has asked for a further probe and let the final verdict come. I always wanted this because, if the court had not asked for a further probe, then there could have risen other arguments,” said Mani.

The court issued the order after looking into seven petitions filed for a further probe.

The case began last October when bar owner Biju Ramesh claimed that Mani was given Rs.1 crore as bribe by the Kerala Bar Owners’ Association to reopen a total of 418 bars that were shut down in the state under the new excise policy.

Following a letter to the vigilance director, the Kerala government ordered a probe against Mani and following a quick verification, a case was registered naming Mani as the first accused.

After seven months of probe, the vigilance department found that there was not enough evidence against Mani and it filed the closure report.

With the local body polls to be held on November 2 and 5, as soon as the vigilance court direction came top Left opposition leaders, including former chief minister V.S. Achuthanandan and CPI-M state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, asked Mani to quit. Balakrishnan also demanded Chief Minister Oommen Chandy’s resignation.

“In no way I am going to step down because there have been precedents of even chief minister and ministers remaining in office. So, we will wait for the final report,” said Mani.

Following the court direction for re-investigation of the case against Mani, Vigilance director Vinson M. Paul, a director general of police rank officer who gave the finance minister a clean chit, informed the media here that he is proceeding on leave.

“I am going on leave for a while, for which I am applying to the government. There is no feeling of guilt and it’s not because of that I am going on leave. With regards to the case, I have only followed the procedures,” said Paul.

 

(IANS)

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Bar Scam: Excise Minister takes back resignation

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Thiruvananthapuram: K Babu, Kerala’s Excise Minister, who had resigned, took back his resignation on Sunday. A court had ordered a case against him for allegedly accepting a Rs 50 lakh bribe to permit bars to continue to function.

The opposition CPI-M termed it a “perfectly scripted act” by Chief Minister Oommen Chandy.

Babu got a reprieve on Thursday when the Kerala High Courtput on hold the lower court directive.

The United Democratic Front (UDF) leadership also asked former Finance Minister K M Mani, who quit in November last year over an allegation that he took a bribe from bar owners to reopen closed bars, to return as he too got a favourable order from the High Court.

However, Mani said he was “in no hurry to return”.

Talking to reporters in Kochi, Babu said “I became an MLA on a Congress ticket and then became a Minister in the UDF government headed by Oommen Chandyin 2011.

“As soon as my name surfaced in the Thrissur vigilance court about a baseless bribery allegation, without even waiting to read the judgment, I put in my papers and vacated my official residence and returned my official car.

“I also attended a farewell given to me by my staff, but today (Saturday), my party and the UDF said the situation that prevailed during my resignation no longer exists, hence I am taking back my resignation, because that’s what my party and the UDF wants,” Babu said.

Babu resigned on January 23, soon after the vigilance court ordered a case to be registered against him after the vigilance department asked for a month’s time to submit a verification report.

Whistleblower bar owner Biju Ramesh had earlier filed a complaint that he gave Babu Rs 50 lakh as bribe to permit bars to continue to function.

Earlier this week, on Babu’s petition, the High Court not only suspended the Thrissur vigilance court order for two months but also pointed out that the lower court appeared to be in a hurry, as the case was also being heard in the High Court.

Babu was forced to reconsider his decision at a leadership meeting of the UDF held at Chandy’s official residence on Saturday.

The UDF leadership meeting also asked Mani to return, but he refused.

“I am thankful to the UDF for reposing absolute faith in me, but at the moment, I am in no hurry to return. I will discuss this new request in my party,” Mani told reporters in Kottayam.

CPI-M state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said what people were seeing was a “perfectly scripted act” by Chandy.

“He knows that he (Chandy) is tainted, so he wants Babu to return. The High Court has not exonerated either of them, it has only stayed the lower court’s order for two months,” said Balakrishnan.

The bar scam first surfaced in October 2014 when Ramesh alleged that the then Finance Minister Mani was given Rs 1 crore as bribe by Kerala’s bar owners to facilitate reopening of the 418 closed bars in the state. Later, he alleged Babu too had taken a bribe.(IANS)

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Kerala minister Mani resigns after High Court orders further probe into bar scam

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Photo: www.ibnlive.com

Thiruvananthapuram: In a day of hectic political parleys all day long in the Kerala capital following a Kerala High Court order to further probe the bar scam in the state, finance minister and the country’s longest serving legislator K.M. Mani on Tuesday resigned over his alleged involvement in the matter.

Addressing reporters at his official residence, the 82-year-old Mani said that being the state’s law minister, “I have to respect the law and hence I have resigned”.

“I have already informed the chief minister (Oommen Chandy) of my decision to resign. Through a special messenger, I will send my resignation to the CM,” he said.

“I take this opportunity to thank the CM and all other leaders who extended support to me.”

“We also wish to state that we will continue to support the United Democratic Front government,” said Mani.

The case began in October 2014 when bar owner Biju Ramesh alleged that Mani was given Rs.1 crore as bribe by Kerala’s bar owners to see that the 418 closed bars in the state are reopened.

Following a letter by Leader of Opposition V.S. Achuthanandan to the vigilance director, the Kerala government ordered a vigilance probe against Mani.

Following a quick verification, a case was registered naming Mani as the accused.

After seven months of investigation, the vigilance department found there was not enough evidence against Mani and they had filed a closure report in the vigilance court that last month quashed the clean chit. It ordered a further probe, which was upheld on Monday by the Kerala High Court.

Speaking to reporters after accepting the resignations of both Mani and his party colleague and government chief whip Thomas Unniyadan, Chief Minister Chandy told reporters that right from the time the case surfaced in October 2014, the UDF was certain that Mani has done no wrong.

“But now with a reference made by the court, the decision to resign was taken by Mani himself and it was meant to uphold the democratic principles.

“Even now, we feel Mani has done no wrong. Contrary to news reports there has been no pressure from my side or from any of the UDF allies and reports that the Congress high command intervened is also baseless,” Chandy said.

The chief minister added that he was certain that Mani will come out unscathed.

Meanwhile, Chief Minister Chandy said there was no threat to his government.

“There is no threat to my government at all. We started four and a half years back with a majority of just two and see we have come till now… in the remaining period also, we will sail smoothly and united,” he said.

Mani’s resignation comes after the Kerala High Court on Monday upheld the Special Vigilance Court’s direction, asking for further probe in the bar scam case in which money is alleged to have taken bribes.

Mani has not lost a single assembly election since he first became a legislator in 1967 from Pala in Kottayam district. He has been a minister in various cabinets for more than two decades.

On Tuesday morning, the Kerala Congress supremo’s official residence in the state capital was buzz with activity.

After a five-hour meeting of the steering committee of Kerala Congress (Mani), the third biggest ally of the ruling Congress-led UDF, took place on Tuesday, Mani reportedly tried to put pressure on the Chandy government, knowing very well that if he along with his seven legislators put their feet down, the government will collapse.

But things did not work the way Mani wished, as his party’s working chairman and cabinet colleague, Irrigation Minister P.J. Joseph, and two other legislators informed Chandy late on Tuesday evening that they will not resign with Mani.

Finding no support from the other allies or from the Congress, Mani asked government chief whip Thomas Unniyadan, a three-time legislator, also to put in his papers.

“Yes, we both are going to resign and the decision will be informed to the UDF. I do not know if Joseph is going to resign, but I am resigning to give my support to Mani. But we will continue to be in the UDF,” Unniyadan told the media, before Mani made his announcement.

Joseph later said Mani has already clarified that their party was “united”.

“Mani will decide if there is going to be a new minister. All such decisions will be made by him,” said Joseph.

(IANS)

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Setback for Kerala minister K M Mani in bar scam

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Kochi/Thiruvananthapuram: In what could be a huge setback for State Finance Minister K M Mani who is at the centre of the bar scam here, the Kerala High Court on Monday upheld the Special Vigilance Court’s direction asking for a further probe.

It was on October 29 that the Thiruvananthapuram-based vigilance court quashed the clean chit given by the vigilance department that probed the bar scam to Mani and asked for a further probe by the department.

Soon after the lower court verdict, the vigilance department approached the Kerala High Court seeking a stay on the lower court’s verdict and the case, after a preliminary hearing last week, was posted for Monday.

On Monday, the vigilance department brought in former cabinet minister and senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal, a lawyer, to argue for it. But Judge Kamal Pasha took a very strong stand and made numerous remarks that left Mani and the Kerala government in a tight spot.

Among the various references that the court made on Monday was the decision that is being left to Mani, if he wants to continue as a minister since a further probe will take place.

The court also came down heavily on the vigilance director for the way he handled the case and came out in support of the lower court judge who had asked for the case diary.

The judge also mentioned the proverb that Caesar’s wife should be above suspicion, adding that if a further probe takes place while Mani is a minister, it could sow doubts in the minds of the people.

The case began last October when bar owner Biju Ramesh revealed that Mani was given one crore rupees as bribe by the Kerala bar owners to see that the 418 closed bars are reopened.

Following a letter by then leader of opposition V S Achuthanandan to the vigilance director, the Kerala government ordered a vigilance probe against Mani.

Following a quick verification, a case was registered naming Mani as the first accused.

After seven months of investigation, the vigilance department found there was not enough evidence against Mani and they had filed a closure report in the vigilance court that last month quashed the clean chit. It ordered a further probe which was upheld on Monday by the high court.

Meanwhile, Mani’s party and cabinet colleague Irrigation Minister P.J. Joseph said their party Kerala Congress (Mani) will deliberate on the issue.

Another party colleague of Mani, government chief whip Thomas Unniyadan, said the question of Mani resigning does not arise.

But various leaders of the Congress party including legislators like V D Sateeshan, T NPrathapan besides senior Congress party office bearers like A P Anil Kumar and others have said that Mani has to step down.

State Congress chief V M Sudheeran and state Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala said the Congress party and the UDF would decide what needed to be done.

Mani’s estranged party colleague and six-time legislator P C George said that if Mani has any shame, he should not only resign but apologise to the people as well.

“The only crime I did was, eight months back I said what the court observed today and for that I was suspended from the party. Mani has to go,” said George.

State CPI-M secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan at a hurriedly called press meet in the capital city said the game is over not just for Mani but also for Chief Minister Oommen Chandy who has been shielding the former.

Speaking to reporters, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said that since most of the leaders are out of the city, a meeting has been called for Tuesday.

“I have got in touch with a few leaders and tomorrow we have decided to meet here (Thiruvananthapuram) to discuss the issue,” said Chandy.

Meanwhile, in reply to a question if Mani’s resignation has been sought, he asked: “Who has sought his resignation?”.

Angry Left supporters gathered in large numbers outside Mani’s colony and raised slogans against Mani.

Reacting to the court observations in Kochi, Mani told reporters: “At my party meeting tomorrow, we will discuss this. But I wish to add that there has been a conspiracy in this and it will come out too.”

(IANS)