NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Wednesday agreed to hear on March 24, BRS MLC K Kavitha’s petition, challenging the summons issued to her by the Enforcement Directorate in connection with the Delhi liquor policy scam. Kavitha was grilled by the ED on March 11 in the case and she was summoned by ED again for the third time on Thursday to appear at its Delhi office.
Kavitha’s plea was mentioned by senior advocate Vikram Chaudhari before a bench of Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud and Justice PS Narasimha. Urging the bench to list the plea immediately, Chaudhari said that she had earlier appeared before the ED but the repeated summons were contrary to the law because the petitioner was a woman.
“Can a woman be called to the office of the ED? She is now being summoned by ED for questioning and it is completely against law,” Chaudhari said. Considering Chaudhari’s submissions, the CJI refused to accede to her request for granting interim relief by listing it for urgent hearing and staying March 16 ED summons. However, it agreed to hear the petition on March 24.
Kavitha in her plea argued that the investigation against her was nothing but a ‘fishing expedition’ being undertaken by ED solely at the behest of the incumbent ruling political party. It was also stated in the plea that though she was not named in the FIR registered by CBI alleging irregularities in the liquor scam, certain members of the ruling party at the Centre made scandalous statements linking her to the policy.
“The ED, in violation of settled law, summoned her to appear before their offices in New Delhi and confiscated her cell phone without any written order for production of the said phone,” the plea stated.
She also contended that she was forced to produce her cell phone whereas she was summoned under Sections 50(2) and 50(3) PMLA which do not require the production of a mobile. “There is no case against the petitioner. The only basis on which the petitioner has been implicated is on the basis of certain statements of few persons who have given incriminating statements qua themselves as well as allegedly against the petitioner. However, such statements have been extracted by using threats and coercion, which is evident from the fact that on 10.03.2023, one Mr Arun Ramachandran Pillai, has retracted his statement. The credibility of the statements purported to be against the petitioner is under serious doubt,” the plea also stated.
Pillai was arrested by the ED earlier. He has moved a city court accusing the ED of forging his statements. The ED had said Pillai "represented the south group", an alleged liquor cartel linked to Kavitha and others that paid kickbacks amounting to about Rs 100 crore to the Aam Aadmi Party to gain a larger share of the market in the national capital under the now-scrapped Delhi excise policy for 2020-21.
The "south group", according to the ED, comprises Sarath Reddy (promoter of Aurobindo Pharma), Magunta Srinivasulu Reddy (YSR Congress MP from Ongole in Andhra Pradesh), his son Raghav Magunta, Kavitha and others.
The ED had also alleged in Pillai's remand papers that he "represented the benami investments" of Kavitha, who has also been questioned by the Central Bureau of Investigation in connection with the case.
The ED has so far arrested 12 people in the case, including former Delhi deputy chief minister and AAP leader Manish Sisodia.
It has recorded the statement of Butchi Babu, a chartered accountant allegedly linked to Kavitha, where he said "there was a political understanding between K Kavitha and the chief minister (Arvind Kejriwal) and the deputy chief minister (Sisodia). In that process, K Kavitha also met Vijay Nair on March 19-20, 2021."
Nair was arrested in the case by both ED and CBI. Butchi Babu has been arrested by CBI. According to Butchi Babu's statement, Nair was "trying to impress Kavitha with what he could do in the (excise) policy."
It is alleged that the Delhi government's excise policy for 2021-22 to grant licences to liquor traders allowed cartelisation and favoured certain dealers who had allegedly paid bribes for it, a charge strongly refuted by the AAP.
The policy was subsequently scrapped and the Delhi lieutenant governor recommended a CBI probe, following which the ED registered a case under the PMLA.
(With inputs from Amit Mukherjee, PTI )