Kerala Lokayukta on Friday asked the state Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau (VACB) to probe the latest claims by Kerala Bar Hotel Owners’ Association working president Biju Ramesh that bar hotel owners had allegedly given a Rs 10-crore bribe to Excise Minister K Babu. Lokayukta said the VACB should submit a progress report on its investigation by June 22.
Biju Ramesh had given a statement in the judicial first-class magistrate court which alleged that K Babu had taken Rs 10 crore from bar owners to get their liquor licence renewed and reduce the annual license fee from Rs 30 lakh to 23 lakh. The VACB had had got Ramesh’s statement recorded before the court as part of its probe into the case that Finance Minister K M Mani had taken a bribe of Rs 1 crore. In his statement, Ramesh not only reiterated his allegation against Mani, but also brought Babu into the scam. Besides, he made a reference that Health Minister V S Shivakumar, too, had allegedly taken money from bar hotel owners, but did not give details.
This “secret statement” had since then been leaked to TV channels. The statement said Babu was allegedly willing to reduce the license fee to Rs 23 lakh only after he was paid Rs 10 crore. It had also given a detailed account about the money given to Mani. While Mani’s Kerala Congress (M) and Opposition are mounting pressure to register case against Babu based on the statement, Congress state president V M Sudheeran said action would be taken against the ministers if there is evidence.
Babu indicated that he would not stay in the seat of the minister if any credible details regarding the bribery charges emerge. “I would not stick on to the post on mere technical ground,” said the minister.
If Babu opts to quit in the wake of VACB registering a case against him, it would be difficult for Mani to continue as the minister as well. Mani had resorted to the line that the chargesheet must come forth with evidence against him, before he steps down.