Setback for Kerala minister K.M. Mani in bar scam

Kochi/Thiruvananthapuram, Nov 9 (IANS) What could be a huge setback for State Finance Minister K.M. Mani who is at the centre of the bar scam case, 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 capital city 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 Vigilance.

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

On Monday, the Vigilance department brought in former cabinet minister and senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal. But Judge Kamal Pasha took a very strong stand and made numerous remarks that has 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 the further probe will take place.

The court also came down heavily on the vigilance director in the way he handled the case and came to the 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 if the further probe happens while Mani is a minister could send doubts in the minds of the people.

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

Following a letter then by leader of opposition V.S.Acuthanandan 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 probe, the vigilance found out there were not enough evidence against Mani and they had filed the closure report to the vigilance court that last month quashed the clean chit. It ordered a further probe and that was further upheld on Monday by the high court.

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

Another party colleague of Mani, who is also the state 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.N.Prathapan 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.

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