Vigilance tightens its noose on Kerala minister

Investigation team finds crucial evidence against finance minister K.M. Mani in the bar bribery scam.

By T K Devasia

Published: Thu 30 Apr 2015, 11:11 PM

Last updated: Thu 25 Jun 2015, 8:41 PM

Trivandrum - The bar bribery scam rocking Kerala’s Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) government has taken a decisive turn with the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau (VACB) unearthing a crucial evidence that supports the allegation that Finance Minister K M Mani had taken bribe from the bar owners.

The investigating team has found the registration number of Kerala Bar Hotel Owners Association working president Biju Ramesh’s car in the visitors register maintained at his official residence in the state capital. They came across the evidence during a search of the minister’s house on Wednesday.

The finding corroborates the statement given by Biju’s driver Ambili that he was present when association president Rajkumar Unni had handed over a brief case containing Rs.1.5 million to the minister on May 2, 2014. However, Unni had denied giving bribe to Mani in the statement he gave to the vigilance.

In his statement given to the investigating team, Ambili had said that he had taken Unni in the car bearing registration number KL01B 7878. He said that he had seen the minister accepting the brief case containing the cash from outside.

His statement was taken after a first information report was registered against the minister following quick verification of Biju’s allegation that the latter had demanded Rs.10 million for re-opening the bars closed since April 1, 2014. Biju had alleged that the minister was given the money in three instalments at his residences in Trivandrum and home town of Palai in Kottayam district. The fresh evidence weakens the minister’s defence in the case. Mani had termed the charge as result of a conspiracy against him from within the ruling coalition, in which his Kerala Congress (M) party is the third largest partner. Though the party had set up a committee to probe the conspiracy, it has not disclosed its findings so far.

Reacting to the media reports about the vigilance finding, the finance minister said that he had no complaints against the vigilance probe. He told reporters on Wednesday that the law will take its course in the case. Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has denied knowledge about any search in the minister’s residence.

In the meantime, the minister’s office has denied the reports. A statement issued by the office said there was neither any vehicle or visitors’ register in the minister’s residence. There is only one visitors’ register, which is maintained outside the Cliff House complex. This is common for six ministers who stay there, the statement added.

Meanwhile, the investigating team is planning to take statements of Unni and other bar owners once again in the light of the fresh finding. Four bar owners, whom the whistle blower referred to in his statement, had denied having paid bribe to Mani in their earlier statements. —

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