Kerala bar scam: Excise minister resigns as court orders case

Thiruvananthapuram, Jan 23 (IANS) Kerala’s Excise Minister K. Babu on Saturday handed over his resignation to Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, after a court ordered a case against him for allegedly accepting a bribe of Rs.50 lakh to permit closed bars to continue to function.

Babu said it was the “result of a conspiracy” hatched by the opposition CPI-M and a section of the bar owners.

Babu’s resignation came soon after the Thrissur 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 following a complaint by whistle-blower bar owner Biju Ramesh that he bribed Babu to permit bars to continue to function.

“All this while, I did not reveal what transpired that led to this situation in the court today.

“It was at a meeting held at the residence of CPI-M legislator V. Sivankutty on December 15, 2014, in which present CPI-M state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan and a few bar owners decided to level this allegation against me,” Babu told reporters at a hurriedly called press meeting here.

The bar scam surfaced in October 2014 when Biju Ramesh alleged that the state’s then finance minister K.M. Mani was given Rs.1 crore as bribe by Kerala’s bar owners to ensure reopening of the 418 closed bars in the state.

“It was on October 31, 2014 that Biju Ramesh, who owns nine bars in the capital city, first made an allegation against then state finance minister K.M. Mani.

“On that day, there was no mention of my name. But it was only after this meeting with CPI-M leaders where the conspiracy was hatched against me, Ramesh first raised the allegation against me,” said Babu.

He said he was not present in court on Saturday, and only heard about it from the media.

“I have always made my position very clear on this, ever since this allegation by the bar owner first surfaced. I had then said I will not latch on to technical grounds, instead I will take a moral call.

“I am yet to know the details of what transpired in the court today. I heard it from the media, when I was taking part in a function of the test run of the Kochi Metro and I immediately told the chief minister that I am resigning,” said Babu.

Babu hoped the “truth will come out one day”.

“I will continue to fight this legally and am sure the truth will come out one day, because till this moment, there is no case against me and there is not a single evidence against me. I have been a legislator for the past 25 years and my electorate here knows me well,” Babu said.

CPI-M state secretary Balakrishnan denied any conspiracy.

“The CPI-M has nothing to do with this case and what Babu said is baseless,” he said.

Ramesh said that even though he met Balakrishnan and Sivankutty, he did not visit Sivankutty’s home on December 15.

“For 41 days after the death of my father, I have not moved out of my home. I did not go to the residence of Sivankutty on December 15,” said Ramesh.

Mani had quit in November last year, after the high court gave the nod for a further probe as asked by the vigilance court.

As per the state’s new liquor policy, it has been decided that the nearly 700 bars in the state should be closed as part of the total prohibition plan.

On December 29, the Supreme Court upheld the liquor policy where only 27 five star hotels will be able to serve liquor.

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