The State Government on Friday finally came out with an official statement on the multi-crore liquor scam in the State.
However, the government skipped the names of the politicians who are allegedly part of the liquor syndicate worth several thousands crores. Further, instead of Prohibition and Excise Minister Mopidevi Venkata Ramana, the statement was read out by Agriculture Minister Kanna Laxkshminarayana on the floor of the State Legislative Assembly. This was apparently done in the wake of allegations that Mopidevi has been facing that he himself was in receipt of bribe from the liquor syndicate.
Giving the details, Lakshminarayana said that the link to the multi-crore scam was found during a surprise check conducted by the Anti-Corruption Bureau in Karimnagar on December 13 last year. The ACB officials intercepted a Tata Victa vehicle belonging to the officials of Excise Department and found unaccounted cash of Rs 3.62 lakh. Further investigations revealed that the money was collected illegally by the excise officials who were part of the State Level Task Force, Hyderabad, and the illegal amount was collected from some owners of the wine shops of Karimnagar district who formed themselves as a syndicate.
During the course of investigation it was further revealed that such illegal collections were taking place in other parts of the State too. Therefore, in just four days, the ACB officials busted 34 syndicate offices in Srikakulam, Vizianagaram, Visakhapatnam, East Godavari, West Godavari, Krishna, Guntur, Nellore, Prakasam, Kurnool, Chittoor, Kadapa, Nalgonda, Khammam, Warangal, Karimangar, Nizambad, Medak, Adilabad, Mahbubnagar, Ranga Reddy and Hyderabad city.
The analysis of the documents seized during the raids revealed that the licensed owners of wine shops/bars across the State have formed themselves into a cartel of informal associations or syndicates with designated leaders. Their sole aim was to make huge profits by selling liquor at rates over and above Maximum Retail Price. The leaders of syndicates used to collect money from the members of the syndicate to bribe various public servants in the connected enforcement agencies and others.
The ACB conducted the searches in syndicate offices covering about 350 licensed wine shops as against 6,596 licensed wine shops in the State. After the compilation of data and analysis of the records, the ACB registered 23 cases under various sections. Searches were conducted in at least 12 districts between January 27 and February 8.
The Minister said that the ACB focused on the independent evidence available relating to individuals and officials involved in serious criminal misconduct and officials who got totally involved in arranging finance for the liquor syndicates in addition to accepting bribes/mamools on a recurrent basis from the liquor syndicates.
Lakshminarayana said that so far, 20 syndicate members, 14 accountants and clerks and eight Excise officials have been arrested for various offences. So far, 24 bail petitions filed by the arrested accused persons have been dismissed by the Special Courts while four anticipatory bail petitions and two quash petitions filed by absconding accused have also been dismissed. However, the ACB Court, Visakhapatnam, has granted conditional bail to four accused.
The Minister claimed that the ACB has been carrying out the investigation in a free and fair manner. “The ACB will continue its efforts, including securing independent source of evidence for taking the case to the level of determination of crime as to who are the real accused and who are not,” he said.
“Upon the completion of the investigation by the ACB, the State Government will take firm action against all the individuals – officials and non-officials – irrespective of their levels or party affiliations,” Lakshminarayana claimed adding that the government was fully committed to honesty, transparency and public interest.
Further, the Minster that the State Government would frame a new Excise Policy by “analysing the information ascertained out of the present raids, taking everyone’s advise to minimise the violations.” (INN)