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Kerala court orders further probe into bribery case against Mani

Thiruvananthapuram: In a blow to ruling Congress-led UDF in Kerala ahead of next week’s civic polls, a special Vigilance Court here Thursday ordered further probe into the bar bribery case against state Finance Minister K M Mani, rejecting the investigating agency’s final report seeking closure of the case.

Inquiry Commissioner and Special Judge John K Illekadan declined to accept the final investigation report by Vigilance and Anti-corruption Bureau which had exonerated Mani stating there was no evidence to charge sheet him.

Pronouncing the judgment, the court observed that the final report was “not acceptable” and the matter was “remitted back to investigation officer for further probe.”

Putting up a brave face, 82-year-old Mani, supremo of Kerala Congress (M), third largest partner in the ruling UDF, and present chairman of Goods and Services Tax Empowered Committee, welcomed the verdict and said he was ready to face further probe.

Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said, “There is no need for Mani to resign. It is a usual legal process, it is not a final verdict.There is nothing unnatural in it.”

However, slamming the UDF, CPI-M led LDF Opposition renewed their demand for Mani’s resignation in the wake of the verdict.

CPI-M State Secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan and CPI-M veteran V S Achuthanandan said “Mani should not remain in power ever for a day.”

The new twist in the case is all set to become a major campaign material for the LDF opposition for the civic polls to be held on November 2 and 5 and also for next year’s Assembly polls.

An FIR had been filed against Mani in the court last year after a ‘quick verification’ by the Vigilance Bureau on the allegations made by Kerala State Bar Hotel Owners’s Association working President Biju Ramesh.

Triggering a controversy, Ramesh in October last had alleged that Mani demanded Rs five crore as bribe from the Association and accepted Rs one crore as bribe for renewal of licence to 470 Indian made foreign liquor bars in 2014.

However, both Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and Mani have maintained that it was a politically motivated charge and had denied the allegations.

The final report had also stated there was no evidence to corroborate the charges against Mani.

The report seeking closure of the case against Mani kicked up a controversy after a ‘factual report’ of investigation officer Superintendent S Sukeshan, which suggested that there was enough evidence to charge sheet Mani, came into the public domain.

There was also an allegation that Vigilance Director Vincent M Paul had overlooked the ‘factual report’ while preparing the final report this June.

The final report was challenged by Achuthanandan, opposition leader in the state assembly, and eight others, seeking further probe into the case.

The state witnessed a series of agitations by the LDF demanding Mani’s resignation since the alleged scam came to light.

The assembly had also witnessed unprecedented violence over the issue when LDF members tried to prevent Mani from presenting the budget on March 13 this year.