Delhi Deputy Chief Minister and senior Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Manish Sisodia on Sunday urged the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to defer his questioning in the Delhi Excise Policy case till the last week of December.
Earlier on Saturday, the CBI had called Sisodia for the questioning in the alleged Delhi Excise Policy scam on Sunday. Sisodia is accused of irregularities in the formulation and implementation of now-scrapped Delhi Excise Policy 2021-22.
Sisodia said, "I have written to the CBI and asked for time for February last week as I am finalising the Budget of Delhi and it is a crucial time. I have told them that I will come after the last week of February."
It's my duty as finance minister to present the budget on time and I have been working 24 hours for it and I have requested the CBI to allow me to come after the last week of February and answer all their questions, he told reporters.
Sisodia, who also held the charge of the Excise Department, was earlier questioned on October 17 last year and his home and bank lockers were also searched in connection with the case.
Though Sisodia has been named in the FIR, he has not been named as an accused in the charge sheet as the investigation against him and other suspects is still going on.
The alleged Delhi Excise Policy scam is also under the scanner of Enforcement Directorate (ED).
CBI focussing on the 'South Lobby' of businessmen
The CBI is now focussed on the alleged influence of a "South Lobby" of businessmen and politicians in formulating and implementing Delhi liquor policy to swing it in their favour using middlemen, liquor traders, and public servants, CBI said.
Arrested businessmen Vijay Nair and Abhishek Boinpally were among the seven accused in the charge sheet filed on November 25 last year.
It is alleged the Delhi government's policy to grant licences to liquor traders favoured certain dealers who had allegedly paid bribes for it, a charge strongly refuted by the AAP.
A CBI spokesperson said, "It was further alleged that irregularities were committed including modifications in Excise Policy, extending undue favours to the licensees, waiver/reduction in licence fee, extension of L-1 license without approval etc.
"It was also alleged that illegal gains on the count of these acts were diverted to concerned public servants by private parties by making false entries in their books of accounts."
Recently, the CBI arrested Butchibabu Gorantla, a former Chartered Accountant of K Kavitha, a BRS MLC in Telangana and a daughter of Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao.
It is alleged that Babu had met several accused named in the FIR in Delhi, Hyderabad, and Mumbai and was one of the prime negotiators from the South Lobby, which wanted to swing the now scrapped excise policy for 2021-22 in its favour.
The CBI had also questioned Kavitha in connection with the case in December last year.
During its probe, the CBI had found evidence that Babu acted on behalf of the South Lobby comprising the Telangana MLC, YSRCP MP Magunta Srinivasulu Reddy, and Aurobindo Pharma's P Sarat Chandra Reddy.
Delhi Excise Policy case explained
The Delhi Excise Policy case refers to the alleged irregularities and corruption in the formulation and implementation of the now-scrapped Delhi Excise Policy 2021-22. It's being investigated by CBI and ED.
Sisodia is among the 15 people named in the FIR by the CBI, but he was not mentioned in the charge sheet filed in the court. While AAP has said it's a sign that there is no evidence against him, the CBI has said that the investigation against him and other suspects is going on.
The Delhi Excise Policy 2021-22 was implemented on November 17, 2021. It was scrapped on July 30 after Delhi Lieutenant Governor VK Saxena recommended a CBI inquiry into the alleged irregularities in the policy. Saxena's action was based on a report submitted by Delhi Chief Secretary Naresh Kumar.
Under the policy, 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.
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".
(With PTI inputs)