Kerala minister accused of seeking bribe to renew bar licenses

Kerala minister accused of seeking bribe to renew bar licenses

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM - In a shocking twist to bar licence issue, Biju Ramesh, a bar owner and working president of the bar hotel owners' association on Friday night alleged that one of the senior ministers in the state cabinet who is a leader of one of the constituent parties of the UDF had demanded Rs 5 crore (S$104,000) for facilitating the renewal of the licences of the 418 hotel bars that had been identified by excise officials as "sub-standard" and closed since last April.

Talking in a news channel programme, Biju Ramesh, a bar owner and working president of bar hotel owners' association said that several members of the bar hotels associations had bribed the minister on several occasions.

Ramesh said that association office bearers had handed over Rs.one crore in two instalments to Mani at his residence at Pala in Kottayam.

He alleged the Cabinet had decided to shut down the remaining 312 bars when the bar hotels association declined to yield to the demand of the minister.MrBiju Ramesh alleged during the debate that the minister in question was Finance Minister and Kerala Congress (M) leader K.M.Mani.

Mr Ramesh further said that association informed this to the chief minister Oommen Chandy and that the CM has advised them not to pay any amount. He added that he would furnish evidence,if a probe is ordered on the matter.

Meanwhile,Chief minister Oommen Chandy said here on Friday that Kerala Bar and Hotels Association president Biju Ramesh never mentioned to him any allegation that Finance Minister K.M. Mani had demanded bribe to reopen bars that have been shut.

Stating the allegations as unfortunate and unfounded, Mr. Chandy said there was no question of ordering a probe as the allegation was baseless. "Mani has for the last 50 years dedicated himself to public service and has lived his life among the people. The people of Kerala know Mani well," he said.

Mr Chandy asked Ramesh to reveal when and where the issue was raised with him and who else was present at that time. He said there was no political conspiracy behind the allegations..

However, KM Mani expressed his readiness to face any probe. He said in Kottayam that there was a conspiracy behind the bribe allegations against him. "I am a person who has been in Kerala politics for the past 50 years. Till date, I have not taken even a single rupee as bribe from anybody," he said.

Leader of Opposition and veteran CPI-M leader VS Achuthanandan has demanded a CBI probe in the matter."It's not just Mani who is involved but other ministers are also involved in the graft and hence a CBI probe is needed," said Mr Achuthanandan.

Meanwhile, the Kerala government today dismissed as false allegations of corruption levelled by bar owners against the State Finance Minister K M Mani over reopening closed bars and ruled out any probe into the matter.

Chief Minister Oommen Chandy today said the charges were 'totally baseless' after Mr Biju Ramesh alleged in a section of the media that Mani had taken Rs one crore and demanded Rs five crore to reopen 418 closed bars.

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