Arvind Kejriwal To Stay In Jail For Now, Supreme Court Refuses Early Hearing

The court gave the arresting agency - the Enforcement Directorate - till April 27 to file its response to the Aam Aadmi Party leader's petition.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal (File).

New Delhi:

The Supreme Court on Monday morning denied Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal immediate relief over a plea challenging his arrest last month on money laundering charges linked to the alleged liquor policy scam.

Mr Kejriwal - arrested by the Enforcement Directorate on March 21 - must now wait till the agency responds - on April 27 - to his plea, and the court reconvenes to hear its argument - on April 29.

This means Arvind Kejriwal will likely remain in jail till 10 days after the start of the Lok Sabha election, in which his Aam Aadmi Party (part of the Congress-led INDIA opposition bloc) is widely seen as a key rival to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in Delhi and Punjab, which together have 20 Lok Sabha seats.

Arvind Kejriwal Hearing In Supreme Court

During the hearing today, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for Mr Kejriwal, told a bench of Justice Sanjiv Khanna and Justice Dipankar Datta he had "facts to shock the conscience of the court".

He also hit out at "selective leaks all over the place" to discredit the Chief Minister, and sought "an extremely short date (of Friday)" to begin hearing the petition. The court, though, refused the plea.

"We will give a reasonable date... a very short date. But not what you are saying," the court said, as it also told Mr Singhvi to "reserve your arguments" after he continued to press for an earlier hearing.

The Supreme Court setback to Mr Kejriwal's hope of an early hearing (and possible release, to allow him to campaign for the AAP) comes after the Delhi High Court last week rejected the same petition.

No Delhi High Court Relief For Kejriwal

The court said the ED had submitted enough material to back its claim - that the Chief Minister was allegedly involved in forming the now-scrapped policy and demanding bribes of Rs 100 crore.

In the High Court Mr Kejriwal argued, vehemently, against his arrest, pointing to the timing of the federal agency's action; the AAP boss, a vocal critic of the ruling BJP, was taken into custody hours after he was refused protection. That was after he skipped multiple summons. alleging a political conspiracy.

READ | Arvind Kejriwal To Stay In Jail, High Court Rejects Plea Over Arrest

Eventually Mr Kejriwal's arrest was ruled valid and his plea dismissed.

Mr Kejriwal had approached the Supreme Court after the High Court turned down his appeal, but had to wait because the top court said it would not constitute a special bench to hear him; the court was closed (for Eid) when the AAP leader approached on Thursday, April 10. Friday was a holiday too.

Mr Kejriwal has called his arrest an "unprecedented assault on the tenets of democracy" based on "free and fair elections" and "federalism". The AAP has denied all charges and described the case against its National Convenor as "political vendetta" meant to destroy the party before the election.

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

"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 Kejriwal and ED."

Meanwhile, in a related hearing, a Delhi court extended Mr Kejriwal's judicial custody till April 23.

Arvind Kejriwal And Alleged Liquor Policy Scam

A defiant Mr Kejriwal became the first sitting Chief Minister to be arrested; weeks earlier another opposition leader, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha's Hemant Soren, narrowly avoided that distinction by resigning minutes before his arrest by the ED, in an unrelated money laundering case.

With reference to the alleged liquor policy scam, the ED has also arrested two of Mr Kejriwal's colleagues; his ex-deputy, Manish Sisodia, was arrested in February last year and Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh in October. Mr Singh was granted bail this month by the Supreme Court, which asked the ED some tough questions, including asking why he had been jailed for six months without a trial.

READ | Sanjay Singh Gets Bail After 6 Months In Jail In Liquor Policy Case

The top court also wanted to know why the agency had failed, so far, to recover any of the alleged bribe money. "Nothing has been recovered... there is no trace (of money allegedly received by the AAP as bribes for allotting liquor permits to the 'South Group')..." the court remarked.

Mr Sisodia's bail plea is to be heard later today.

The ED has repeatedly claimed the Aam Aadmi Party conspired to receive Rs 600 crore in bribes - including from a 'south group' led by opposition leader K Kavitha of the Bharat Rashtra Samithi, who has also been arrested - for allotment of retail and wholesale liquor permits for the national capital.

Earlier today K Kavitha also saw her judicial custody extended till April 23.

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