By Alok Mathur
Days after the Supreme Court restrained the Enforcement Directorates from investigating further or taking any coercive measures in connection with an alleged Chhattisgarh liquor syndicate scam,ED strikes back and brought the liquor scam case outside the jurisdiction of Chhattisgarh government. It has now registered an FIR in Noida in the alleged Rs 2,100 crore liquor scam of Chhattisgarh. It has booked five people including two retired IAS officers and an Indian Telecom Service (ITS) officer Arunpati Tripathi, who is under ED custody after serving as special secretary in the excise department. Two IAS officers – Niranjan Das and Anil Tuteja are promotee officers from 2003 batch. While Das has been reemployed as excise commissioner after retirement in January this year, Anil Tuteja, who was serving as joint secretary in the state's industry and commerce department, has retired in May this year.
ED has also named businessman Vidhu Gupta owner of hologram firm and Anwar Dhebar, who is the elder brother of Raipur Mayor and Congress leader Aijaz Dhebar.
What is the case and why it has been registered in Noida
The case has been registered under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA). As per the FIR, ED had found during investigation that a Noida based company named Prizm Holography Security Films Pvt Ltd was illegally granted tender for supplying holograms to excise department. ED alleged the named Chhattisgarh officials connived with the firm and illegally modified the tender to allot the work to the company. Since the company is based out of Noida, ED had the legal provisions to lodge FIR outside Chhattisgarh.
ED has alleged that the three officers took commission of eight paise per hologram and a commitment to supply unaccounted duplicate holograms to sell illicit country liquor from state run shops. The fake hologram on illegal bottles duped customers and the liquor syndicate made large sum of money. The FIR says that the syndicate gave contract of supplying 80 crore holograms in five years at a highly inflated price to carry out sale of illicit liquor through fake holograms supplied by the same company.
ED suspect similar scams in other states like Jharkhand also where the same firm has supplied its services to their Excise departments.
The Modus Operandi
During investigation ED has found that a criminal syndicate comprising bureaucrats, businessmen and politicians was operating in Chhattisgarh which was making illegal bribe collections by controlling the high-level management liquor trade.
According to ED, Anwar Dhebar – the elder brother of Congress leader Aijaz Dhebar was the main collection agent and front man of this syndicate. There is specific digital evidence depicting delivery of Rs 14.41 crore by Anwar to Tuteja, the ED claimed.
Three-way generation of illegal money
The agency's application said the syndicate collected illegal money in three different ways from the sale of liquor in Chhattisgarh.
These included illegal commission charged from liquor suppliers for accounted sale in the state, sale of off-the-record unaccounted country liquor (popular in Chhattisgarh) from state run shops and thirdly the annual commission paid to allow distillers to operate in the state, it said.
The excise policy in the state was amended in 2017 and the Chhattisgarh State Marketing Corporation Limited (CSMCL) was thus created with the responsibility to retail liquor in the state through its stores.
In May 2019, Arunpati Tripathi was made the CSMCL's managing director at the behest of Anwar, the ED said.
Tripathi was then assigned with the task to maximise the bribe commission collected on liquor procured by CSMCL, and to make necessary arrangement for sale of non-duty paid liquor in the corporation-run shops. Tripathi was supported by Anwar and senior IAS officers in this operation, it claimed.
The agency's investigation has established that in order to decide the quantum of commission on the sale of country liquor, a meeting was called in 2019 by Anwar wherein distillers were demanded to pay Rs 75 per case commission against its procurement by CSMCL. In return, Anwar promised to raise their “landing rates” proportionately, the ED said.
This system was agreed upon and the syndicate started collecting huge amount of commission on the sale of accounted liquor cases. Majority of the collected amount was given to Anwar and he shared majority of it with a political party, it said.
“A more sinister scheme was made to manufacture and sell unaccounted illicit liquor. Unaccounted liquor was sold from state run shops. Duplicate holograms and bottles were used. Liquor was transported directly from distiller to shops bypassing state warehouses. Excise officials were involved. The entire sale was done in cash,” the ED claimed.
“No income tax and no excise duty, etc were paid. The entire sale was off the books. The entire sale consideration was siphoned off with each person getting its share including distiller, transporter, hologram maker, bottle maker, excise official, higher echelons of excise department, Anwar Dhebar, senior IAS officer(s) and politicians,” it said.
The ED's investigation has revealed that from 2019 to 2022, this kind of illegal sale was almost 30-40 per cent of the total sale of the liquor in the state, it claimed.