Liquor businessman Sameer Mahendru was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) today in connection with Delhi’s now expelled excise policy that has triggered a massive face-off between the ruling AAP and the BJP.
The arrest of Mr Mahendru, managing director of Indospirits that distributes liquor, comes a day after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) arrested Vijay Nair, AAP’s communications chief and a close aide of Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia.
The CBI is investigating if the policy, which was withdrawn eight months after its launch last November, aided liquor cartels. The ED is probing allegations of money laundering due to the policy.
The ED’s case is based on the CBI FIR that alleges Arjun Pandey, an alleged associate of Mr Sisodia, once collected about Rs 2 crore in cash from Mr Mahendru on behalf of Mr Nair.
Mr Mahendru, it is learnt, was arrested under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act following a night-long questioning session.
He is expected to be produced before a local court, where the ED will seek his further remand.
The AAP has stressed that its policy was aimed at curbing corruption and accused the BJP of misusing central agencies for political goals. The party has said that the BJP is targeting it to counter the challenge posed by AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha election.
Following Mr Nair’s arrest yesterday, the AAP said he “has nothing to do with excise policy” and that the case is “baseless”.
“Vijay Nair is communication in-charge of AAP. He was responsible for developing and implementing communication strategies in Punjab earlier and Gujarat now,” the party statement read. It said the arrest is “part of BJP’s ongoing attempt to crush AAP and obstruct AAP’s Gujarat campaign”.
The CBI has alleged that bribes from a liquor firm owner were collected through Mr Nair, whom it described as the former CEO of Only Much Louder, an entertainment and event management company based in Mumbai.
The AAP has alleged that Mr Nair was arrested after he refused to buckle under the agency’s pressure to implicate Mr Sisodia.
“He was called for questioning last few days and was pressurised to take the name of Manish Sisodia. When he refused to do that, he was threatened that he would be arrested. His house was raided twice in last one month but nothing was found,” the party said.
BJP leaders have alleged huge corruption in the now withdrawn liquor policy that allowed retailers to offer big discounts to attract buyers. The BJP has said the policy was a fraud on the people of Delhi.
The CBI probe was recommended by the Delhi Lieutenant Governor Vinai Kumar Saxena, who has alleged that the policy was implemented “with the sole aim” of benefiting private liquor barons by causing huge losses to the exchequer.