Arvind Kejriwal To Stay In Jail, Petition Against Arrest Rejected

Arvind Kejriwal - whom the Enforcement Directorate has dubbed the scam's "kingpin" - will remain in Delhi's Tihar Jail till April 15, in line with a city court's order last week.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal (File).

New Delhi:

Arvind Kejriwal will remain in jail, the Delhi High Court said Tuesday afternoon as it knocked back the Chief Minister's challenge to his March 21 arrest in the alleged liquor policy scam. Mr Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party responded swiftly, confirming, within the hour, that it will appeal to the Supreme Court.

The court noted the Enforcement Directorate submitted material to suggest the Aam Aadmi Party leader had conspired to formulate the now-scrapped policy and was involved in demanding alleged kickbacks of Rs 100 crore, some of which was used to fund campaign expenses for the 2022 Goa election.

The court also noted the ED's submission of statements by approvers (accused turned government witnesses) and an AAP Goa candidate claiming he had been paid with the alleged kickbacks.

Mr Kejriwal's arrest was therefore ruled valid and his plea dismissed. The court, therefore, upheld earlier remand orders - which sent him to the ED's custody and then to Delhi's Tihar Jail till April 15.

Mr Kejriwal is the first sitting Chief Minister to be taken into custody.

Court On Approver Statements

Reading out the verdict - scheduled for 2:30 pm and then delayed to 3:15 pm - the court took a dim view of Mr Kejriwal's arguments from April 3, in which he questioned approvers' statements.

The court said doubting grant of pardon to accused (in exchange for information implicating other accused) "amounts to casting aspersions on the judicial process". "The law is over 100 years old... it is not a one-year-old law falsely enacted to implicate the petitioner," the court said sternly.

READ | "Judges Not Bound By Politics": High Court Dismisses Kejriwal's Petition

Last week, senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi argued, "... in first statements there will be nothing against me. Some are arrested and, for first time, they give a statement against me and get bail. Then they get pardon and become approver."

There was reference back then to the Supreme Court granting bail to AAP MP Sanjay Singh, who was arrested in this case. The court noted that one of the approvers did not initially implicate Mr Singh.

The Delhi High Court, though, noted that Mr Kejriwal would have an opportunity to inspect and question all such documents, but at "the appropriate stage". "... this is not that stage," it said.

Court On Timing Of Mr Kejriwal's Arrest

The court also shot down questions over the timing of the arrest.

Mr Kejriwal and the AAP have alleged the arrest was timed for just before the Lok Sabha election - to side-line the party's senior-most leaders, including the Chief Minister, and disrupt campaign plans.

"'Level playing field' (before an election) is not just a phrase. It is part of 'free and fair elections' which is part of a democratic structure. This case reeks of timing issues," Mr Singhvi said.

"What is this urgency? I am not talking about politics... I am talking about law," he continued, arguing the arrest was meant to "demolish Aam Aadmi Party before first vote is cast".

READ | "Undertrial Prisoners Have No Right To...": Arvind Kejriwal Hearing

The court, though, said the probe agency acted irrespective of the election dates. It also noted that Mr Kejriwal - who skipped multiple summons, dating back to October - would have known that the election was fast-approaching and, therefore, would have had limited time to join the investigation.

"Political considerations can't be brought before a court of law... the matter before this court is not a conflict between the central government and Arvind Kejriwal. It is a case between Arvind Kejriwal and the ED," Justice Swarana Kanta Sharma said.

AAP vs BJP Over Verdict

Dismissal of the petition sparked a heated exchange between the rival parties, with BJP MP Manoj Tiwari posting on X, "A criminal is a criminal. The verdict has shown the mirror to AAP's gang leader..."

READ | AAP vs BJP After Court Rejects Kejriwal's Plea Against Arrest

Responding for the AAP, Delhi Health Minister Saurabh Bhardwaj pointed out, again, that neither the ED nor the Central Bureau of Investigation had found any of the alleged bribe money.

Arvind Kejriwal In Tihar Jail

Mr Kejriwal was sent to Tihar Jail No 2 on April 1, after the ED declined to seek further custody.

The probe agency, however, did argue he ought not to be released as he had been "uncooperative" and "evasive" during questioning, and might, if freed, influence witnesses or tamper with evidence.

READ | Kejriwal Lodged In 14x8 Feet Cell. See What Court Has Allowed

While in jail, Mr Kejriwal will begin his day at 6:30 am with other undertrial prisoners, but will have home-cooked food and bottled drinking water, given concerns over his health as a diabetes patient.

Alleged Delhi Liquor Policy Case

Arvind Kejriwal and two of his colleagues, including former Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, have been arrested in connection with alleged kickbacks from the now-scrapped liquor policy.

READ | Liquor Policy Profits Used For Goa, Punjab Polls: Probe Agency

The ED believes the policy provided an impossibly high profit margin of nearly 185 per cent for retailers and 12 per cent for wholesalers. Of the latter, six per cent was to be recovered by the AAP as bribes, which amounted to over Rs 600 crore. This was then allegedly used as poll expenses.

Mr Kejriwal and the AAP have repeatedly denied all the allegations. They have claimed a political conspiracy against the Chief Minister, who is a high-profile member of the INDIA opposition bloc.

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