Kerala bar bribery case: Audio recording reveals rift within Congress-led UDF govt
The bar bribery issue which has recently rocked the Congress-led UDF Government in Kerala took a new turn on Monday with a recorded conversion revealing that two senior leaders of the ruling coalition offered their support to bar hotel owners to incriminate finance minister K M Mani the corruption case.
Chairman of Kerala Congress (M), Mani is facing a Vigilance probe into the allegation that he accepted bribe from bar owners to renew their liquor license. Adding more trouble for Mani, the released audio claimed that Mani had pocketed Rs 23 crores from various trade sectors to give them favours, including lower tax regime.
Bar hotel owners’ association working president Biju Ramesh released the recovered conversion in which Kerala Congress (B) chairman R Balakrishna Pillai urging Ramesh not to spare Mani and move the high court seeking a CBI probe into the bribery issue. “Vigilance’s quick verification against the minister is a farce. You should not go back on the charges.’’
In another conversion, Kerala Congress vice-chairman and Government chief whip P C George telling Ramesh that don’t bother about his deceitful support for Mani in the issue.
During the conversion with Ramesh, Pillai had raised other corruption charges against Mani saying that the minister had taken bribe from gold merchants (Rs 19 crore), rice mill owners (Rs 2 crore) and bakery association (Rs 2 crore) for not increasing their tax. Pillai said he had told Chief Minister Oommen Chandy that Mani had taken bribe from bar owners to get their liquor license renewed.
George, in his conversion, said, “doesn’t mind that I might have said many things publically to protect Mani. Being a party leader, I have to support him in open.’’ George, who wanted a direct meeting with Ramesh, said he would reveal more things when he meets him (Ramesh). When Ramesh pointed that what he his allegation against Mani was true, George was heard laughing.
The disclosure, embarrassing for the Congress-led UDF Government, has come after Congress ironed out the differences of opinion within the party over bar license issue.
Both Pillai and George admitted to their recorded conversions. Exposed by his secrete move against the party chairman, George said he tried to meet Ramesh only to save Mani.
However, Chandy evaded the issue. “Nobody can unsettle the Congress government. I have not met Pillai as he had claimed. We have the people’s support.’’
Opposition leader V S Achuthanandan said Mani should be sacked from the ministry as the allegation came from two ruling front leaders who enjoy cabinet rank.
George as chief whip has cabinet rank and Pillai has also cabinet rank as chairman of State Welfare Corporation for Forward Communities.