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Bar bribe row: Vigilance forms investigation team

Bar bribe row: Vigilance forms investigation team

Thiruvananthapuram: With the "bar bribe" row casting a shadow over the Congress-led UDF Government, the Vigilance and Anti-corruption Bureau Tuesday formed a special team to investigate bar owners allegation that Finance Minister and Kerala Congress (M) supremo K M Mani had demanded a hefty sum as bribe for favourable decisions.

The special team, constituted by VACB director Winson M Paul, will be headed by Superintendent of Police M Rajmohan, official sources said.

As directed by Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala, based on a letter from opposition leader V S Achuthanandan, the team would conduct a "quick verification" to ascertain whether there was some substance in the allegation levelled against Mani by Bar Hotels Association working president Biju Ramesh.

An FIR will be registered only if the investigators came across prima facie evidence to do so during the course of their inquiry, to be completed within three months, sources said.

In what is seen a spillover of the Oommen Chandy Government's move to take the state to total prohibition in 10 years, Ramesh had alleged that Mani demanded a hefty sum as bribe from bar owners for helping them to open 418 bars shut down earlier this year for want of required facilities.

The Government later tightened its liquor policy by ordering closure of all bars except those attached to five star hotels.

Challenging the decision, the bar owners had moved the court and a division bench of Kerala High Court had stayed it for a month.

The graft row has caused some commotion in the opposition CPI(M) also with party stalwart V S Achuthanandan insisting on a CBI probe while the party leadership is yet to form its view on the mode of probe it would prefer.

Seeking to cash in on the differences in the CPI(M), Chief Minister Oommen Chandy charged Achuthanandan with changing track by pressing for a CBI inquiry after demanding in writing for a Vigilance probe into the issue.

"It was Achuthanandan himself who wrote a letter to the Director of Vigilance to hold an inquiry. It was on the basis of this letter that the government asked the Vigilance to look into the issue. Now Achuthanandan is doing a somersault by demanding a CBI probe," Chandy said.

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