In a setback for Kerala Congress (M) chief KM Mani, the Vigilance Court in Thiruvananthapuram, on Tuesday, rejected the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau (VACB) report clearing him in the sensational bar bribery case. The court also directed the VACB to take permission from the government to reopen the case and reinvestigate it.
The VACB gave clean chit to Mani saying that there was no evidence to prove that he accepted a bribe from the bar owners allowing them to reopen bars. When KM Mani was the Finance Minister in the Congress-led Oommen Chandy government, it was alleged he demanded bribes to the tune of Rs 5 crore to renew the licenses of over 400 bars.
The allegations against Mani were made by the Kerala State Bar Owners Association, and based on a complaint by Biju Ramesh, a bar owner, an FIR was filed against him. However, the VACB had maintained that the case would not stand as there was no circumstantial or scientific evidence against him.
Former Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan, Biju Ramesh, Left Democratic Front Convener A Vijayaraghavan and BJP leader V Muraleedharan had been asking for either a reinvestigation into the case or the court take suo motu cognisance of the case.
The court also observed that the investigation into the case was not complete. Mani did not react to the court ruling and instead, reiterated his innocence and said there was no truth to the allegations.
Several politicians reacted to the court directive. CPI(M) State Secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said the case should be re-investigated, while CPI Leader Kanam Rajendran welcomed the directive saying it has been now proved that there was truth to the allegations. VS Achuthanandan too welcomed this move by the court, and said the case should be investigated.
The bar bribery case was the biggest setback in Maniās political career. He was forced to step down as Finance Minister following the allegations in November 2015. KC(M) was an ally of the Congress in the United Democratic Front, but the parties parted ways in August 2016. However, he returned to the UDF fold this year.