Chandi defends Mani in bar scam

K M Mani

As the opposition leaders in Kerala demanded state Finance Minister K M Mani's removal from the cabinet after a special vigilance court ruling against him, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy on Friday said there was no need for Mani to step down.

On Thursday, a special vigilance court quashed a clean chit given by the vigilance department to Mani in the bar scam case and ordered a further probe.

"Even as we respect the court verdict, there is no need for Mani to step down. Mani has done no wrong. A vigilance court is not the last word in judiciary," Chandy told reporters here.

"Mani has not accepted bribe. If one reads today's (Friday's) newspapers, every report appears to have come to its own conclusions. In no way will Mani be asked to resign," he said.

The court order came on seven petitions that sought further probe into the case. Last October, bar owner Biju Ramesh claimed that Mani was given Rs 1 crore as bribe by the Kerala Bar Owners' Association to reopen 418 bars shut down in the state under a new excise policy.

Following a letter to the vigilance director, the Kerala government ordered a probe against Mani. A case was later registered, naming Mani as the main accused.

After seven months of investigations, the vigilance department allegedly did not find enough evidence against Mani and filed a closure report in court.

Asked if vested interests were behind the bar scam case, Chandy said he would not say anything about which he was not sure. "But I can say one thing that a lot of people are upset over my government's liquor policy," the chief minister said.

With civic polls scheduled for November 2 and 5, the Left opposition on Friday stepped up its attack on Mani.

"Mani has no moral right to continue and should step down," said Communist Party of India-Marxist politburo member Pinarayi Vijayan.

"He should not use public money to fight this case again," demanded leader of the opposition V S Achuthanandan.

On the other hand, Mani told reporters in his hometown Pala in Kottayam that he had done no wrong.

"The Supreme Court rulings in bribery cases are very clear. Nothing has been proved with regard to me demanding money. I am not such a person," he said.

Former defence minister A K Antony wanted the law to take its own course while state Congress president V M Sudheeran said the issue would be taken up in the people's court in the coming local body elections.


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