In a setback to former finance minister and Kerala Congress (M) chairman KM Mani, a court in Kerala capital Thiruvananthapuram on Tuesday rejected a Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau (VACB) report giving him clean chit in the bar bribery case.
Inquiry commissioner and special judge (Vigilance) D Ajithkumar refused to accept the agency's report and directed that further investigation into the case be carried out after getting necessary sanction from the government.
The vigilance court posted the case to December 10 after hearing a bunch of petitions, including that of CPI(M) veteran VS Achuthanandan, ruling LDF convenor A Vijayaraghavan, BJP leader V Muraleedharan and hotelier Biju Ramesh, challenging the VACB report.
The case pertains to the allegation by Kerala State Bar Hotel Owners' Association that it had paid Rs 1 crore as bribe to Mr Mani for getting a favourable decision to reopen closed liquor bars in 2013-14.
The graft charge was raised by the association's working president Biju Ramesh, who had alleged that Mani had demanded Rs 5 crore as bribe and accepted Rs 1 crore for reopening around 400 closed foreign liquor bars.
The bar bribery case had rocked the previous Congress-led UDF government headed by Oommen Chandy. KM Mani resigned as state finance minister in November 2015 following an observation by the Kerala High Court in the case.
The judge also criticised the manner in which the VACB handled the case and observed that the investigating officer had not complied with many of the directives issued by the court.
Citing an example, the court said the officer had not collected details regarding the quantum of amount collected by the bar owners, allegedly to be given as bribe to Mr Mani. The VACB report had stated that there was no evidence available to prove that he had received a bribe.
Reacting to the court order, 85-year-old Mani said that he was ready to face any probe and truth will triumph.
"I don't have any anxiety or worry over the court order. I will fight till I get justice," he told reporters in Kottayam.
Welcoming the court order, Mr Achuthanandan said the state government should accord sanction for further investigation in the case at the earliest. Senior minister EP Jayarajan said the government would act according to the court order.
Leader of the opposition in the Assembly Ramesh Chennithala said he would respond after getting the details of the court order.
KM Mani's Kerala Congress (M) had quit the Congress-led UDF in August 2016 over the bar bribery scam. The party returned to the UDF fold in June 2018 after a patch-up worked out between the KC(M) and the Congress.