Unprecedented corruption in Chhattisgarh liquor sales: ED
New Delhi: Money was “illegally” collected from “every bottle” of liquor sold in Chhattisgarh and evidence of “unprecedented” corruption and laundering of Rs 2,000 crore generated by an alcohol syndicate led by Anwar Dhebar, the elder brother of Raipur Mayor Aijaz Dhebar, has been collected, the ED said on Sunday.
Anwar Debhar was arrested by the federal agency under the criminal sections of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) in the early hours of Saturday from a hotel in Raipur while he was trying “to run from the back door”, it said in a statement.
He was remanded to four-day Enforcement Directorate (ED) custody by a special PMLA court even as his lawyer said the arrest seemed to be “politically motivated” and that they would move the Supreme Court.
The agency said Anwar Dhebar did not join the probe in the case despite being summoned seven times and charged that he was “continuously using benami SIM cards and internet dongles, and was changing locations”.
When he was zeroed in at the Raipur hotel, he tried to run away from the back door instead of accepting the summons but was subsequently caught by the ED team, it said.
Aijaz Dhebar is known to be an influential leader of the ruling Congress in Chhattisgarh.
“Investigation found that an organised criminal syndicate led by Anwar Dhebar was operating in Chhattisgarh. Anwar Dhebar, though a private citizen, was backed by and was working for illegal gratification of high-level political executives and senior bureaucrats.
“He weaved an elaborate conspiracy and stitched a wide network of persons/entities to execute the scam so that money was illegally collected from every bottle of liquor sold in Chhattisgarh,” the ED alleged.
It said raids were conducted at 35 locations in Chhattisgarh, West Bengal and Delhi, including the residential premises of Anwar Dhebar at Raipur, in March and this led to the collection of “evidence of unprecedented corruption and money laundering to the tune of Rs 2,000 crore between 2019-2022”.
Anwar Dhebar, the ED alleged, was responsible for the “collection of this entire illegal money but is not the ultimate beneficiary of this scam”.
“It is established that after deducting a percentage, he had passed on the remaining amounts to his political masters,” it claimed.
This money laundering case stems from a 2022 Income Tax department charge sheet filed against state IAS officer Anil Tuteja and others before a court in Delhi, the ED said.
Describing the liquor policy in Chhattisgarh, the ED said revenue from liquor (excise duty) is one of the highest contributors to the state kitty.
“Excise departments are mandated to regulate the supply of liquor, ensure quality liquor to users to prevent hooch tragedies and to earn revenue for the State. But investigation revealed that the criminal syndicate led by Anwar Dhebar has turned upside down all these objectives,” the agency alleged.
In Chhattisgarh, it said, the state controls “all aspects” of liquor trade from procurement to retail sale to consumers.
“No private liquor shops are allowed. All 800 liquor shops are run by the state and the Chhattisgarh State Marketing Corporation Limited (CSMCL) centrally procures all the liquor,” the ED said.
The CSMCL, it said, issues tenders for manpower suppliers who run the shops, cash collection tenders and selects bottle makers and hologram makers.
“With the support of the political executives, Anwar Dhebar managed to get a pliant Commissioner and MD of CSMCL and hired close associates like Vikas Agarwal alias Subbu and Arvind Singh to make the system completely subservient to him.
“He controlled the entire chain of the liquor trade starting from private distillers, FL-10A license holders, senior officers of the excise department, district-level excise officers, manpower suppliers, glass bottle makers, hologram makers, cash collection vendor, etc. and leveraged it to extort maximum amount of bribes/commission,” it said.
The agency said the alleged liquor syndicate working in the state under Anwar Dhebar charged a “commission of Rs 75-150 per case (depending on the type of liquor) which was fastidiously charged from the suppliers for each accounted cash procured by the CSMCL”.
“Anwar Dhebar, in conspiracy with others, started getting manufactured unaccounted country-made liquor and selling the same through government-run shops. This way they could keep the entire sale proceeds without depositing even Re 1 in the state exchequer,” the ED claimed.
The probe found that between 2019 and 2022, this kind of “illegal sale was almost 30-40 per cent of the total sale of the liquor in the state and this act generated Rs 1,200-1,500 crore of illegal profits”.
This was an annual commission that was paid by the main distillers for getting a distillery licence and a fixed share in the market purchase of the CSMCL, the ED said.
The distillers “used to pay bribes as per percentage of market share allotted to them. Procurement was done strictly in this ratio by the CSMCL”, the agency claimed.