The Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Tuesday questioned Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Manish Sisodia in Delhi Excise Policy case and recorded his statement.
Former Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Sisodia is currently lodged in Delhi's Tihar Jail. He was arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on February 26.
Sisodia along with others is accused of irregularities in the formulation and implementation of the now-scrapped Delhi Excise Policy 2021-22. While the CBI is probing the criminal aspects of the case, ED is probing the alleged money laundering in the case.
It was for the first time that Sisodia was questioned by the ED in case. The questioning lasted for about five hours, the official sources said told PTI. The questioning is expected to continue for next few days.
Besides recording Sisodia's statement, the ED also took businessman Arun Pillai in custody in the case.
What's Delhi Excise Policy case?
Under the Delhi Excise Policy 2021-22, Delhi was divided into 32 excise zones and retail liquor licenses were issued to private players for 849 vends. It marked the exit of government from liquor business in Delhi.
Lieutenant Governor VK Saxena in July 2022 recommended CBI probe over alleged violations of rules and procedural lapses in the formulation and implementation of the Delhi Excise Policy 2021-22. The recommendation was based on a report submitted by Delhi Chief Secretary Naresh Kumar.
Kumar's report alleged that Sisodia provided undue benefits to liquor vend licensees in lieu of "kickbacks" and "commissions" that were allegedly used by AAP in the Punjab Assembly elections in February, reported The Indian Express.
The CBI has also alleged that Sisodia and excise officials gave undue benefits to liquor license-holders. It has also alleged that people in the liquor business were "actively involved in irregularities in framing and implementation of excise policy".
Sisodia was arrested on February 26, following which he resigned as the Deputy Chief Minister of Delhi where he held excise among other portfolios.
ED's questioning of Manish Sisodia
The ED obtained the court's permission to question the AAP leader in the jail for three days.
The ED is expected to question him about the alleged change and destruction of cellphones that were in his possession and the policy decisions and the timeline followed by him as the excise minister of Delhi. These charges were made by the agency in its chargesheets filed before the court.
At any point of questioning, the ED may consider invoking section 19 of the PMLA that allows it to arrest people involved or accused in the case, if the investigation officer has "reasons to believe" that the person is "guilty" of the offence of money laundering and is being "evasive" in replies. However, the counsel for Sisodia has told the court during CBI proceedings that this was a fabricated case against his client and there was no wrongdoing on his part.
The ED has informed the court through its charge sheet that its probe found that at least 36 accused, including Sisodia "destroyed, used or changed" 170 phones to conceal evidence of "kickbacks" worth thousands of crores of rupees in the alleged scam.
The CBI, during its custody of Sisodia, had confronted him with his former secretary C Arvind and then Excise commissioner Arava Gopi Krishna in connection with alleged manipulation of the excise policy.
Sisodia was not mentioned as accused in the charge sheet of the CBI filed in the case on November 25 last year.
Business Arun Pillai taken in custody
In a linked development, the ED also made a fresh arrest in this case as it took into custody Hyderabad-based liquor businessman Arun Ramchandra Pillai on Monday evening, officials said.
Pillai, who is alleged to to have represented the so-called 'South Group' of liquor traders, is the 11th person to be arrested in the case by the ED. A Delhi court on Tuesday sent Pillai to the ED custody till March 13.
Manish Sisodia's PA questioned
In a separate but related development, Sisodia's Personal Assistant Devender Sharma was questioned in the Delhi Excise Policy caes on Tuesday.
Sharma alias Rinku was summoned to the CBI headquarters where he was questioned by officials of the anti-corruption branch since morning, they said.
According to officials, the CBI had not named Sisodia in the chargesheet as the central probe agency kept the probe open against him and other suspects and accused. The CBI alleged that wholesale dealers were given undue profit margins under the influence of a 'south lobby', a coterie of Hyderabad-based businessmen and politicians, in the Delhi government's excise policy for 2021-22, a charge strongly refuted by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). The policy was later scrapped.
(With PTI inputs)