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Explained: Why SC Came Down Heavily on ED Over Chhattisgarh Liquor Scam Probe

Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel said that their claim that the ED acts as 'an agent of the BJP' has been proved right.

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Explained: Why SC Came Down Heavily on ED Over Chhattisgarh Liquor Scam Probe
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Hearing a suit filed by the Chhattisgarh government in April 2023, citing harassment and coercion by the Enforcement Directorate (ED), the Supreme Court directed the investigating agency to refrain from creating "an atmosphere of fear" as it investigates a Rs 2,000 crore liquor scam in the state.

"If there is a scam, you catch the right people. Don't create an atmosphere of fear. It's not that everybody is an accused...."
Supreme Court

Senior counsel Kapil Sibal – advocating on behalf of Chhattisgarh government – noted that the agency has been probing the alleged liquor scam by overlooking territorial jurisdiction – and with an intent to implicate Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel.

The ED has accused high-level state government officials, political executives, and individuals outside the government of their involvement in illegal sale of liquor in Chhattisgarh.

The bench told the ED counsel to ensure that the public's trust in these agencies is kept intact. "Let there be some confidence of common man in these agencies. Otherwise, even a bona fide cause becomes suspect."

So, what exactly are the allegations made out against the government officials? And why is the ED under fire from the SC over the probe? We explain.

Explained: Why SC Came Down Heavily on ED Over Chhattisgarh Liquor Scam Probe

  1. 1. What Is the ED Alleging?

    In May 2022, the Income Tax (IT) Department filed a prosecution complaint, which led to the ED recording an Enforcement Case Information Report (ECIR) against Anil Tuteja, an IAS officer in Chhattisgarh, along with other individuals, to investigate the matter under the provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), 2002.

    The ED obtained the prosecution complaint filed by the IT Department, as well as documentary and digital data seized during search operations conducted in 2020. Its investigation led to an alleged scam in the sale of liquor in the state.

    In its detailed remand application submitted to the PMLA court on 6 May, the ED claimed that according to the gathered evidence, a 'criminal syndicate' was operating in the state, which was making illegal bribe collections by "controlling the high-level management of important state departments and state PSUs."

    The probe agency accused Anil Tuteja, Joint Secretary in the Department of Industry and Commerce, of being the kingpin of the illegal syndicate, along with Anwar Dhebar, brother of Aijaz Dhebar, a Congress mayor in the state capital Raipur.

    The ED alleged that both Tuteja and Dhebar had "good relations with the highest political executives and misused their power to control postings and engage in systematic extortion and corruption."

    The probe agency alleged that the syndicate amassed cash to the tune of hundreds of crores at every step of the distribution chain, with each actor taking a small percentage as remuneration, and the remaining funds being transmitted to Anwar Dhebar. 

    The probe agency claimed that the accused, Tuteja and Dhebar, maintained detailed logs and accounts of the collected money, and the syndicate shared daily collection details on WhatsApp and maintained Excel sheets and chats on the flow of illegal cash.

    Expand
  2. 2. What Has the Chhattisgarh Government Said?

    In response to the allegations made by the ED, Chief Minister Baghel on Thursday, 11 May, accused the agency of trying to implicate him in a false case, and said that their main aim was "to defame the Congress."

    "Our claim that the ED has been acting as an agent of the BJP has been proved right. The way it has been threatening people to implicate them in false cases... they are now trying to implicate me in the alleged excise scam. Their main aim is to defame the Congress government."
    Bhupesh Baghel

    Earlier, Baghel had accused the ED of working for the benefit of the BJP in elections, and said, "The Congress government will expose every conspiracy of the BJP leaders and the ED."

    On 17 May, the Chhattisgarh government told the SC that at least 52 officers within the excise department have accused the ED of harassment and coercion.

    Arguing in the top court, Sibal said that the Chief Minister is the 'real target' of the ED's investigation, that the agency had overlooked its territorial jurisdictional, and that "there has been no underlying predicate offence in the matter."

    The Chhattisgarh government also accused the agency of 'threatening state excise officials' and their family members with 'arrest'.

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

What Is the ED Alleging?

In May 2022, the Income Tax (IT) Department filed a prosecution complaint, which led to the ED recording an Enforcement Case Information Report (ECIR) against Anil Tuteja, an IAS officer in Chhattisgarh, along with other individuals, to investigate the matter under the provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), 2002.

The ED obtained the prosecution complaint filed by the IT Department, as well as documentary and digital data seized during search operations conducted in 2020. Its investigation led to an alleged scam in the sale of liquor in the state.

In its detailed remand application submitted to the PMLA court on 6 May, the ED claimed that according to the gathered evidence, a 'criminal syndicate' was operating in the state, which was making illegal bribe collections by "controlling the high-level management of important state departments and state PSUs."

The probe agency accused Anil Tuteja, Joint Secretary in the Department of Industry and Commerce, of being the kingpin of the illegal syndicate, along with Anwar Dhebar, brother of Aijaz Dhebar, a Congress mayor in the state capital Raipur.

The ED alleged that both Tuteja and Dhebar had "good relations with the highest political executives and misused their power to control postings and engage in systematic extortion and corruption."

The probe agency alleged that the syndicate amassed cash to the tune of hundreds of crores at every step of the distribution chain, with each actor taking a small percentage as remuneration, and the remaining funds being transmitted to Anwar Dhebar. 

The probe agency claimed that the accused, Tuteja and Dhebar, maintained detailed logs and accounts of the collected money, and the syndicate shared daily collection details on WhatsApp and maintained Excel sheets and chats on the flow of illegal cash.

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What Has the Chhattisgarh Government Said?

In response to the allegations made by the ED, Chief Minister Baghel on Thursday, 11 May, accused the agency of trying to implicate him in a false case, and said that their main aim was "to defame the Congress."

"Our claim that the ED has been acting as an agent of the BJP has been proved right. The way it has been threatening people to implicate them in false cases... they are now trying to implicate me in the alleged excise scam. Their main aim is to defame the Congress government."
Bhupesh Baghel

Earlier, Baghel had accused the ED of working for the benefit of the BJP in elections, and said, "The Congress government will expose every conspiracy of the BJP leaders and the ED."

On 17 May, the Chhattisgarh government told the SC that at least 52 officers within the excise department have accused the ED of harassment and coercion.

Arguing in the top court, Sibal said that the Chief Minister is the 'real target' of the ED's investigation, that the agency had overlooked its territorial jurisdictional, and that "there has been no underlying predicate offence in the matter."

The Chhattisgarh government also accused the agency of 'threatening state excise officials' and their family members with 'arrest'.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Chhattisgarh   Liquor   Scam 

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