ED files charge sheet against businessman in excise probe

The Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Saturday filed a charge sheet against businessman Sameer Mahendru and two of his companies, as part of its money laundering probe into alleged irregularities in Delhi’s 2021-22 excise policy, said people familiar with the matter.

The people cited above said that the probe against Delhi’s deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia, state excise department officials and other liquor businessmen and middlemen is continuing.

Mahendru, who runs Indospirit Group and Khao Gali Restaurants, was named as one of the accused in the case and the FIR in the matter alleges that he made two payments — including ₹1 crore to Dinesh Arora, a city-based businessman and at least ₹2 crore to Gurugram-based businessman Arjun Pandey — on behalf of former OML chief Vijay Nair, who is also an accused in the case.

ED’s charge sheet comes a day after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) filed its own charge sheet in the case, naming seven people, including Nair (who is also the Aam Aadmi Party’s communication strategist, Abhishek Boinpally, a lobbyist, three other businessmen and two former officials of the Delhi excise department.

This is the first charge sheet filed under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) in the case.

ED and CBI are separately probing the 2021-22 excise policy. ED is probing allegations of money laundering in framing and implementing the regime, and CBI probe is focused on alleged irregularities while the policy was being framed that allowed the “cartelisation” of the liquor business in Delhi.

Indospirit was awarded a L1 wholesale licence in the excise policy.

Investigations are on to check if the company also formed associations with other companies to get retail licences in violation of the excise policy rules.

CBI raided his residence on August 19 and the ED searched it in the first week of September.

After arresting P Sarath Chandra Reddy of Aurobindo Pharma Group and wine and spirits firm Pernod Ricard’s senior executive Benoy Babu on November 9, ED alleged that details of the excise policy were leaked to a few manufacturers at least 45 days before they were released to the public.

The federal anti-money laundering agency also claimed that 34 “important” people, including Sisodia, liquor barons, and senior government officials changed 140 mobile phones, in a bid to destroy the digital evidence.

“The excise policy was leaked to certain liquor manufacturer (s) much before it was released. It has been found that the policy was made public on the excise department website on July 5, 2021. However, ED has evidence in its possession indicating the policy and many other related documents have been leaked to certain manufacturer (s) on May 31, 2021,” the agency claimed in its remand note while producing Reddy and Babu in the court.

The Delhi government’s 2021-22 excise policy aimed to revitalise the city’s flagging liquor business. It aimed to replace a sales-volume based regime with a licence fee one for traders, and promised swankier stores, free of the infamous metal grilles, ultimately giving customers a better buying experience. The policy also introduced discounts and offers on the purchase of liquor, a first for Delhi.

The plan, however, came to an abrupt end, with Delhi’s lieutenant governor Vinai Kumar Saxena recommending a CBI probe into alleged irregularities in the regime. This ultimately resulted in the policy being scrapped prematurely and being replaced by the 2020-21 regime, with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) alleging that Saxena’s predecessor sabotaged the move with a few last-minute changes that resulted in lower-than-expected revenues.

ED also alleged in its remand note that bribes worth ₹100 crore were given in advance to the public servants by select business groups.

A senior officer cited above said on Saturday that the bribe amount and the fact that suspects allegedly changed phones has been mentioned in the charge sheet as well.

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