Fresh trouble brewing for UDF govt in bar bribery case

In potentially fresh trouble for Congress-led UDF government in Kerala a day after Finance Minister KM Mani quit over bar bribery case, CPI-M veteran VS Achuthanandan on Wednesday sought a probe into corruption charges levelled against Excise Minister K Babu by a hotelier.

As hotelier Biju Ramesh, instrumental in the developments leading to Mani’s resignation, renewed the charge against Babu that Rs ten crore was given as bribe to him, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said his government cannot be cowed down by such allegations. Mounting pressure on UDF, Achuthanadan shot off a letter to the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau Director seeking a ‘quick verification’ on the charges by hotelier Biju Ramesh that he had paid bribe to Babu for reducing the licence fees of bar hotels.

“I will approach the court if a quick verification is not held within a specific time,” the former chief minister, who had opposed the proposed closure of probe against Mani, told reporters here. He alleged that Babu had also taken bribe along with Mani and a proper probe on the issue was necessary. Reiterating his charge, first made in a statement to the Vigilance in April last, Biju Ramesh, Working President of Kerala Bar Hotel Owners Association, alleged in Kochi that he himself had handed over Rs 50 lakh each on two occasions at the Secretariat office of the Excise minister. He also offered to provide more evidence and face a lie detector test.

Putting up by a brave face, Babu, a close confidant of Chandy, denied the allegations and said he was not afraid of the case. “I am not afraid of the case. Let Ramesh, prove the charges… there is no case and evidence against me,” he told reporters here after visiting Mani who maintained that there was a political conspiracy against him. Babu, who had already filed a defamation case against Biju Ramesh for levelling the bribery charge, also claimed the hotelier wanted him to withdraw the case.

“Biju Ramesh had sent a message through a common friend that I should withdraw the defamation case,” Babu said adding he will continue with the legal battle. Reacting to the charges against Babu, Chandy said “let it come. What new evidence has been put forward by Biju Ramesh?’ he asked. The issue (bar bribary case) is being discussed in the state for the past one year”, Chandy added.

Chandy also said that “government is committed to fighting corruption and will not protect those who commit corruption. But no one can demoralise the government by levelling false corruption allegations”.