Excise scam: Delhi HC dismisses Manish Sisodia’s bail pleas in money laundering, corruption cases

New Delhi, May 21 (PTI) In a major setback to former deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia, the Delhi High Court on Tuesday dismissed his bail pleas in cases lodged by the ED and CBI in connection with the alleged liquor scam, saying the matter involved grave misuse of power and breach of public interest by him.

Justice Swarana Kanta Sharma said Sisodia allegedly indulged in destruction of crucial evidence, including electronic evidence.

The high court said he was a very powerful and influential person within the power corridors of the Delhi government as he had the responsibility of 18 portfolios in the city dispensation.

“The case at hand is a grave misuse of power and breach of public trust by the applicant who was serving as deputy chief minister of Delhi at the relevant point,” it said.

While pronouncing the order, the high court said as a minister having 18 portfolios, including the Department of Excise, Sisodia was entrusted with the formulation of a new liquor policy for Delhi.

However, the material collected during the investigation showed that the applicant “subverted” the process of making the policy by “fabricating” public feedback to suit his “predetermined goal”, it said.

On an application by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader seeking interim relief, the court said he will continue to be permitted to meet, in custody, his ailing wife every week on the same terms and conditions as provided by the trial court.

The high court had on May 14 reserved its order on the pleas after hearing arguments on behalf of the AAP leader, CBI and ED.

Sisodia has challenged a trial court’s April 30 order by which his bail pleas were rejected.

The trial court had dismissed Sisodia’s bail pleas in the corruption and money laundering cases lodged by the CBI and ED respectively in connection with alleged irregularities in the formulation and execution of the now-scrapped Delhi excise policy for 2021-22.

Also on Tuesday, Special Judge Kaveri Baweja of the trial court extended till May 31 the judicial custody of Sisodia in the money laundering case.

Sisodia was arrested by the CBI on February 26, 2023, for his alleged role in the liquor “scam”. The ED arrested him in the money laundering case stemming from the CBI FIR on March 9, 2023.

Sisodia resigned from the Delhi cabinet on February 28, 2023.

In its order on Tuesday, the high court said it was of the opinion that Sisodia has not been able to make out a case for grant of bail.

It added that the Enforcement Directorate (ED) has made out a prima facie case of commission of money laundering under the provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) against Sisodia.

The court said rather than genuinely taking the opinion of the common citizens of Delhi, pre-drafted emails containing specific suggestions aligning with his own interest were sent to the designated feedback email address of the Excise Department.

“These emails were sent under the guise of public feedback or opinion by individuals who were instructed to do so by the applicant Manish Sisodia himself.

“In this court’s opinion, this deceptive act was a calculated move to create an illusion that the excise policy was formed after careful consideration of feedback received from the public.

“But in reality, the feedback was manufactured to justify the applicant’s decision to formulate excise policy in defiance of the expert committee report,” Justice Sharma said.

The court said the alleged corruption in this case “originated from Sisodia’s desire” to create a liberal policy that would benefit select individuals in return for a substantial amount.

On the contention of delay caused by the accused in the proceedings of the case before the trial court, the high court said similarity in the legal approach adopted by different counsel for the accused does not necessarily constitute a delaying tactic.

Each accused is entitled to pursue his defence independently and in accordance with his legal rights, it said and added that each one of them is entitled to a fair and impartial trial.

The high court said it was also of the opinion that there has been no delay on the part of the prosecution to supply documents to the accused and, similarly, there has been no delay on the part of the trial court.

“No fault can be found with ED or CBI as there is a voluminous record of investigation,” it said.

The high court said it can independently apply its mind to the facts of the case and decide the bail application, and that the argument of the senior counsel for Sisodia that this court cannot go beyond the observations made by the Supreme Court, while earlier denying bail to the AAP leader, is meritless.

While seeking bail for Sisodia, his counsel had submitted before the high court that the ED and CBI are still arresting people in the money laundering and corruption case and there is no question of early conclusion of the trial.

Both ED and CBI have opposed Sisodia’s bail pleas on the grounds that there are concerted efforts by the accused to delay the process of framing charges in the case.

The probe agencies have alleged that the beneficiaries diverted “illegal” gains to the accused officials and made false entries in their books of account to evade detection.

According to the probe agencies, irregularities were committed while modifying the excise policy and undue favours were extended to the licence holders.

The Delhi government implemented the policy on November 17, 2021, but scrapped it at the end of September 2022 amid allegations of corruption.

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