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Bar bribe scam turns murkier, phone tape embarrasses UDF

Bar bribe scam turns murkier, phone tape embarrasses UDF

Thiruvananthapuram: The bar bribe scam that cast a shadow over the Congress-led UDF Government turned murkier on Monday with TV channels airing telephone tapes in which Kerala Congress (B) leader R Balakrishna Pillai purportedly asked entrepreneur Biju Ramesh to go ahead with his graft charge against Finance Minister KM Mani.

Immediately after Malayalam channels aired the recorded conversation, Pillai, a founder leader of UDF, confirmed its authenticity and claimed he had already told these things to Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, which the latter refuted.

In the tape released by channels, Pillai was purportedly heard telling Ramesh that he should not desist from his allegation that Mani had demanded a hefty sum from bar owners for favourable decision, over which a Vigilance probe is on.

Responding to queries from media, Pillai said it was true that he had said these to Ramesh when he called him and that he had already told Chandy all these things about Mani.

Pillai, however, said it was Ramesh who called him and he should not have released the conversation to media, which amounted to "blackmailing".

Refuting Pillai's claim, Chandy said, "I had met Pillai only once after the bar bribe scam erupted and we did not speak on that occasion."

Putting a brave face, the Chief Minister said the UDF Government was not going to be "destabilised" by these developments since it enjoyed people's support.

Ramesh had yesterday alleged that there had been attempts to scuttle the Vigilance probe into the allegation with Mani's son and Lok Sabha member from Kottayam, Jose M Mani, pressurising some bar owners.

Ramesh, working president of Kerala Bar Hotel Owners Association, also said he would approach the High Court seeking a CBI probe if the Vigilance inquiry was not conducted in an impartial manner.

Kerala Congress (M) supremo Mani, who handles Finance and Law in the ministry, had rubbished the charge asserting Ramesh had no credibility as he had been making contradictory statements on the issue.

Though Pillai's KC(B) continues to be a UDF partner, the party has no presence in the Ministry after its lone legislator K B Ganesh Kumar was forced to quit after facing allegations of domestic rift.

Rattling the UDF government, Ramesh had alleged three months ago that Mani had been given a hefty sum on the promise that he would help re-open some closed liquor bars.

Based on the allegation, the government initially ordered a "quick verification' and later lodged an FIR for a detailed investigation.

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