Cannot keep former deputy CM Manish Sisodia in jail in excise policy cases indefinitely: SC to CBI, ED

 The Supreme Court told the CBI and ED on Monday they cannot keep former deputy chief minister and AAP leader Manish Sisodia in jail for an “indefinite period” in the Delhi excise policy cases.

A bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and SVN Bhatti asked Additional Solicitor General SV Raju, appearing for the two probe agencies, when will the arguments on charges against Sisodia commence in the trial court.

“You cannot keep him behind (bars) for an indefinite period. You cannot keep him behind like this. Once a chargesheet is filed in a case, arguments on charge should commence immediately,” the bench told Raju.

Raju told the bench the cases against Sisodia are at the stage of section 207 of CrPC (supply of documents to the accused) and after that the arguments on charge will commence.

“Why have the arguments on charge not yet commenced and when will they commence? Tell us by tomorrow (Tuesday),” Justice Khanna told Raju.

The top court was hearing the bail pleas of Sisodia, who was arrested in the excise policy cases being probed by both the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED).

During the hour-long hearing, Raju said if a person of the rank of deputy chief minister and holding 18 portfolios, including that of the excise department, accepts bribe then a proper example needs to be set.

“Just have a look at the role of this person. The consumers have been deprived of their money due to the policy changes. There are WhatsApp chats and other communications to show conspiracy of money laundering,” Raju said while summarising his arguments on why Sisodia should not be granted bail.

Raju claimed there was sufficient material to show the offence of money laundering and to buttress the allegation of Sisodia having tampered with evidence by destroying his mobile phones, grounds that are sufficient for denial of bail.

“There was also an instance of arm-twisting where a wholesaler was forced to give up his licence while a firm was given the licence despite not qualifying the criteria,” he said.

Raju referred to the statement of Delhi businessman Dinesh Arora, an accused-turned-approver, and claimed he had told the probe agencies about the bribes Sisodia took.

“He (Arora) has stated in his statement why he had not mentioned earlier about the role of Sisodia and has said that he was afraid that he will be harmed,” the ASG said.

The bench asked whether prior approval has been taken to prosecute Sisodia under section 17A of the Prevention of Corruption Act to which Raju replied in the affirmative.

Section 17A stipulates a mandatory requirement for a police officer to seek prior approval from the competent authority for conducting any enquiry or inquiry or investigation into any offence alleged to have been committed by a public servant under the Prevention of Corruption Act (PC Act).

Raju alleged the new excise policy encouraged cartelisation and was designed in such a manner that consumers ended up paying more.

The hearing remained inconclusive and will continue on Tuesday.

On October 5, the top court had posed a volley of questions to the CBI and the ED about the Delhi excise policy ‘scam’ and asked the anti-money laundering agency how a case was made out against Sisodia.

The top court had said merely because some lobby or pressure groups had sought a certain policy change does not imply there was corruption or commission of crime unless an element of bribery was involved.

Sisodia was arrested by the CBI on February 26 for his alleged role in the ‘scam’. He has been in custody since then.

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The ED arrested him in a money laundering case stemming from the CBI FIR on March 9 after questioning him in Tihar Jail.

Sisodia resigned from the Delhi cabinet on February 28.

The high court had denied him bail in the CBI case on May 30, saying having been the deputy chief minister and excise minister, he is a “high-profile” person who has the potential to influence the witnesses.

On July 3, the high court had declined him bail in the money laundering case linked to alleged irregularities in the city government’s excise policy, holding that the charges against him are “very serious in nature”.

The Delhi government implemented the policy on November 17, 2021 but scrapped it at the end of September 2022 amid allegations of corruption.

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