Arvind Kejriwal Arrested By Enforcement Directorate In Liquor Policy Case

The AAP chief was questioned at his residence before his arrest

New Delhi:

Delhi Chief Minister and Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal has been arrested by the Enforcement Directorate in the alleged liquor policy scam, unleashing waves of protest by thousands of the party workers and supporters and strident condemnation from the leaders of the Opposition.  The arrest of a serving Chief Minister — an unprecedented, seismic development in national politics — comes just weeks ahead of the Lok Sabha election. The Aam Aadmi Party has knocked at the doors of the Supreme Court. The hearing is due tomorrow. The party has also said that Mr Kejriwal will continue to discharge his duties from jail – a prospect that may create a constitutional crisis, legal experts have said.

The central agency, which was investigating the money laundering angle in the case, turned up at Mr Kejriwal’s house in the evening. After a search and questioning session, he was arrested around 9 pm and taken to the ED office in Delhi two hours later. He will remain in the ED lock-up tonight after a medical check-up from the RML hospital, sources said.

Speaking from outside the Chief Minister’s official residence on Thursday, Delhi minister Atishi said Mr Kejriwal’s arrest is a “conspiracy by the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi”.

“Mr Kejriwal is not just a man, he is an idea. If you think arresting one Kejriwal can finish off the idea, you are wrong. Mr Kejriwal is, was and will remain the Delhi chief minister. We have said from the beginning that he will run the government from jail if need be. He has not been convicted… No law stops him from doing so,” she said in Hindi.

At a post-midnight press conference, AAP said it was called a nationwide protest against the BJP on Friday. In Delhi, the protest will take place outside the BJP headquarters. “All the INDIA bloc parties stand with us,’ said Ms Atishi, who is second to Mr Kejriwal in the Delhi government.

The arrest too place after Mr Kejriwal skipped the ninth summons for questioning by the ED earlier on Thursday. Later in the day, the Delhi High Court refused to grant him protection from arrest.

An ED team, comprising 12 officials and led by Additional Director Kapil Raj — the officer who arrested former Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren in January – had reached Mr Kejriwal’s residence with a search warrant. His and his wife’s phones were confiscated and data was transferred from two tablets and a laptop at his home.

As the ED officials carried out their questioning inside the residence, Delhi Police and Rapid Action Force personnel as well as CRPF teams were deployed outside. Prohibitory orders were imposed in the area outside the residence and several AAP workers, who had gathered to protest Mr Kejriwal’s arrest, were detained.

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K Kavitha Link?

The Delhi chief minister’s arrest comes less than a week after BRS leader K Kavitha was taken into custody in the liquor policy case. After her arrest, Mr Kejriwal was, for the first time, named as a conspirator in the case.

READ | Explained: Why Enforcement Directorate Arrested Arvind Kejriwal

Ever since the first summons was issued by the Enforcement Directorate in October last year and he was asked to appear on November 2, there has been intense speculation that the Delhi chief minister would be arrested by the agency.

Former Delhi deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia was put behind bars in connection with the case in February last year, and AAP Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh was taken into custody in October.

Mr Kejriwal has repeatedly said that there was no scam in the Delhi liquor policy and the ED, which he claims is controlled by the BJP, is out to arrest him. The AAP and many other opposition parties have accused the BJP of misusing central agencies against their leaders. The harassment of opposition leaders, they have claimed, has increased in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections, which will begin on April 19. 

READ | As Arvind Kejriwal Is Arrested, Raghav Chadha Talks Of “Big Conspiracy”

The AAP’s allies in the INDIA bloc, including the Trinamool Congress and the Congress have also condemned the arrest. “Targeting Delhi Chief Minister Shri Arvind Kejriwal in this manner due to elections is completely wrong and unconstitutional. Lowering the level of politics in this manner suits neither the Prime Minister nor his government,” senior Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra posted on X. 

Earlier on Thursday, the Delhi High Court had declined to give protection from arrest to Mr Kejriwal in the liquor policy case, but had asked the ED to file a reply to his petition. Listing the matter for the next hearing on April 22, a Bench of Justices Suresh Kumar Kait and Manoj Jain said, “We have heard both sides, and we are not inclined at this stage (to grant protection). The respondent (ED) is at liberty to file a reply.”

‘Conspirator’

In a press note released on Sunday, the Enforcement Directorate had called the AAP chief a conspirator in the alleged liquor policy scam.

“ED investigation revealed that Ms K Kavitha along with others conspired with the top leaders of AAP including Arvind Kejriwal and Manish Sisodia for getting favours in the Delhi Excise policy formulation and implementation. In exchange of these favours, she was involved in paying Rs 100 Crore to the leaders of AAP,” the press note said.

“By the acts of corruption and conspiracy in the formulation and implementation of Delhi Excise Policy 2021-22, a continuous stream of illegal funds in the form of kickback, from the wholesalers was generated for the AAP. Further, Smt K Kavitha and her associates were to recover the proceeds of crime paid in advance to AAP and to further generate profits/proceeds of crime from this entire conspiracy,” it added.

The Case 

Under the liquor policy, introduced in November 2021, the government withdrew from retail sale of liquor and allowed private licensees to run stores. In July 2022, Delhi Chief Secretary Naresh Kumar flagged gross violations in the policy and alleged “undue benefits” to liquor licensees. The policy was scrapped in September that year.

The CBI has alleged that liquor companies were involved in framing the excise policy, which would have earned them a 12% profit.on the wholesale side. It said a liquor lobby dubbed the “South Group” – of which Ms Kavitha was allegedly a member – had paid kickbacks, part of which were routed to public servants. The Enforcement Directorate has alleged laundering of the kickbacks.

The BJP has claimed that the proceeds of the alleged scam were used by the AAP to fund its campaign for the Gujarat Assembly polls in 2022, in which it got 12.91% of the votes and established itself as a national party.

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