Delhi Excise Policy: Sisodia, Others Changed 140 Phones To Destroy Evidence, Says ED

Delhi Excise Policy: Sisodia, Others Changed 140 Phones To Destroy Evidence, Says ED

New Delhi: The Enforcement Directorate on Thursday informed a PMLA court that the Delhi excise policy was “leaked” to some liquor manufacturers much before it was released. The agency further said that an investigation has found that three dozen VIPs, including Delhi Deputy CM Manish Sisodia, changed as many as 140 phones to destroy digital evidence.  

This comes a day after the federal agency arrested two executives— Benoy Babu, Delhi regional head of French wine company Pernod Ricard, and P Sarath Chandra Reddy, whole-time director of Aurobindo Pharma Ltd.   

Aurobindo Pharma informed the stock exchange that Reddy was “not in any way connected with the operations of Aurobindo Pharma Limited or its subsidiaries”.  

While seeking the remand of these two executives, ED said, “The Delhi govt/excise department under the influence of accused persons allowed the formation as well as operation of cartels even when enough information was available on public platforms to indicate cartelisation by most of the licence holders. This was done in exchange for bribes and kickbacks to Delhi excise officials and the members of the Delhi government.”  

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The agency said that several people it questioned, during the investigation, “have revealed that bribe of Rs 100 crore had been given in advance for undue benefits to select business groups to operate in the Delhi excise policy 2021-22.” It added that kickbacks and bribes were demanded and taken by the Delhi excise officials for opening retail shops in the national capital.  

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“34 important persons involved/suspected to be involved in the excise scam have changed a total of 140 phones (valued at about Rs 1.20 crore) with an intent to destroy digital evidence during the relevant period. These persons include all the main accused, liquor barons, senior government officials, the excise minister of Delhi, and other suspects. The timing of the change of phone indicates that these phones were mostly changed just after the scam surfaced,” the agency said.  

It said several people questioned by it during the investigation “have revealed that bribe to the time of Rs 100 crore had been given in advance for undue benefits to select business groups to operate in the Delhi excise policy 2021-22.”  

“These persons include all the main accused, liquor barons, senior government officials, the excise minister of Delhi, and other suspects. The timing of the change of phone indicates that these phones were mostly changed just after the scam surfaced,” the agency said.  

Manish Sisodia, the finance and education minister of Delhi, held the excise charge then.  

ED claimed to have proof that indicates the policy was “leaked” to certain liquor manufacturers on May 31 last year while it was put into public domain two months later on July 5, 2021. It also alleged that many approvals to L1 wholesalers were given by excise officials “beyond working hours or late at night”.  

Informing the court about the role of Benoy in the case the ED said that he colluded with Sameer Mahandru and others to create a “nexus of manufactures-wholesalers-retailers to gain market share by unethical means.” It added that the analysis of the email dump of Benoy Babu makes it crystal clear that he had access to the excise policy much before it was released to the public and that he was also aware of the regular developments happening in the policy formation.  

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ED said that Babu created severe loopholes in the policy to give undue benefits to Pernod Ricard such as price increases for its brands and scope for cartel formation through which Pernod Ricard would be able to control significant retail market and push specific brands.  

Talking about P Sarath Chandra Reddy, the ED said he was “one of the kingpins and major beneficiary” of the alleged scam and was a “key partner” in the biggest cartel (named as a south group by Dinesh Arora in his statement) of manufactures, wholesaler and retailers.  

It accused the cartel of controlling 30 per cent of the Delhi liquor market through a series of illegal activities including giving kickbacks, using Benami and proxy entities, and conspiracy with stakeholders in the liquor industry. Ed said that this cartel and Reddy gave a “kickback” of Rs 100 crore through businessman Vijay Nair, who was earlier arrested by the CBI in the case.  

ED further accused Reddy of actively planning and conspiring with various business owners and politicians and indulging in unfair marker practices to gain an undue advantage from the Delhi excise policy.  

The agency said it has so far undertaken 169 search operations in this case, filed after taking cognisance of a CBI FIR which was registered on the recommendation of the Delhi lieutenant governor. 

(With inputs from PTI)