Kejriwal was denied protection by the Delhi High Court in the liquor policy case. Image Credit: AFP

New Delhi: Just weeks ahead of Lok Sabha elections, Delhi Chief Minister and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) chief Arvind Kejriwal has been arrested by India’s financial crime agency in the alleged liquor policy scam.

Kejriwal has become the first sitting chief minister to be arrested in the history of Independent India and his party has said he will continue to hold the post, broadcaster NDTV reported, a setback for the opposition ahead of elections.

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The arrest means the main leaders of the decade-old Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) are in jail, following the arrests last year of two of Kejriwal's deputies in the same case - which the party has called "dirty politics".

The agency, the Enforcement Directorate (ED), is investigating allegations that a liquor policy implemented by the Delhi government in 2022, which ended its control over sale of liquor in the capital, gave undue advantages to private retailers. The policy was subsequently withdrawn.

Delhi Minister of Education Atishi Marlena Singh said on social media that the party was seeking to quash the latest arrest.

"We have asked for an urgent hearing by the Supreme Court tonight itself," she said.

Earlier, speaking from outside the chief minister’s residence, Atishi said: “We are getting reports that the Enforcement Directorate has arrested Kejriwal. His arrest is a conspiracy by the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Since the investigation of this case began two years ago, not one rupee has been recovered by the ED or the CBI despite over 1,000 raids on AAP leaders and ministers.”

“Arvind Kejriwal’s arrest after the announcement of the Lok Sabha election is a conspiracy. Kejriwal is not just a man, he is a thought. If you think arresting one Kejriwal can finish off the thought, you are wrong. Kejriwal is, was and will remain the Delhi chief minister. We have said from the beginning that he will run the government from jail if need be. No law stops him from doing so,” she said in Hindi, NDTV reported.

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An ED team, consisting of 12 officials, reached Kejriwal’s residence with a search warrant on Thursday evening and questioned him before his eventual arrest. His and his wife’s phones were confiscated and data was transferred from two tablets and a laptop at his home.

As the ED officials carried out their questioning inside the residence, Delhi Police and Rapid Action Force personnel as well as CRPF teams were deployed outside. Prohibitory orders were imposed in the area outside the residence and several AAP workers, who had gathered to protest Kejriwal’s arrest, were detained.

The AAP chief had earlier skipped multiple ED summons in the case.

What is the Delhi excise policy case?
Two cases — one by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and another on alleged money laundering being investigated by ED, have been registered with regard to the excise policy.
The stems out of a report submitted by Delhi Chief Secretary Naresh Kumar to Lieutenant Governor (LG) Vinai Kumar Saxena in July 2022, pointing to alleged procedural lapses in the formulation of the policy, according to the Indian Express.
The report said “arbitrary and unilateral decisions” taken by then Delhi Deputy CM Manish Sisodia in his capacity as Excise Minister had resulted in “financial losses to the exchequer” estimated at more than Rs5.80 billion.
It alleged that “kickbacks received by the AAP Delhi government and AAP leaders” from owners and operators of alcohol businesses for preferential treatment such as discounts and extensions in licence fee, waiver on penalties and relief due to disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, etc. were used to “influence” the Assembly elections held in Punjab and Goa in early 2022. The AAP went on to form the government in Punjab.
This report was referred to the CBI, and led to Sisodia’s arrest. Then, once the CBI named Sisodia and 14 other accused in its FIR, including AAP communications in-charge Vijay Nair, the ED told a court in March that the alleged proceeds of crime amounted to more than Rs2.92 billion, and that it was necessary to establish the modus operandi.
The ED alleged that the “scam” was to give the wholesale liquor business to private entities and fix a 12 per cent margin, for a 6 per cent kickback.
In its first prosecution complaint in November 2021, the ED said the policy was “formulated with deliberate loopholes” that “promoted cartel formations through the back door” to benefit AAP leaders.
The ED also alleged that AAP leaders received kickbacks to the tune of Rs100 crore (Rs1 billion) from a group of individuals identified as the “South Group”.
K KAVITHA IN ED CUSTODY: Why was Telangana MLC arrested?
Recently, K Kavitha, Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) leader and daughter of former Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao, was arrested allegedly for being part of this ‘South Group’.
Others alleged to be part of the group include Ongole MP Magunta Srinivasulu Reddy’s son Raghav Magunta, P Sarath Chandra Reddy, son of P V Ramprasad Reddy and co-founder of Hyderabad-based Aurobindo Pharma.
According to the ED, this group “secured uninhibited access, undue favours, attained stakes in established wholesale businesses and multiple retail zones (over and above what was allowed in the policy)”.
It was after Kavitha’s arrest that the Enforcement Directorate alleged — for the first time — that Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal was a conspirator in the case, on March 18, the Indian Express said.
“ED investigation revealed that Ms K Kavitha along with others conspired with the top leaders of AAP including Arvind Kejriwal and Manish Sisodia for getting favours in the Delhi excise policy formulation and implementation. In exchange for these favours, she was involved in paying Rs 100 crore to the leaders of AAP,” alleged the ED spokesperson on Monday. “By the acts of corruption and conspiracy in the formulation and implementation of Delhi Excise Policy 2021-22, a continuous stream of illegal funds in the form of kickback from the wholesalers was generated for AAP.”
Earlier, in a supplementary prosecution complaint, the ED had alleged that Kejriwal himself spoke to one of the main accused, Sameer Mahendru, over a video call and asked him to continue working with co-accused Vijay Nair whom he referred to as “his boy”.

Earlier, denying Kejriwal interim protection from arrest in the case, the Delhi High Court ruled that at this stage, it was not inclined to do so.

The court passed down the directive during the hearing on a plea by the AAP supremo, urging coercive action against him in connection with the excise policy case.

The bench of Justice Suresh Kumar Kait and Justice Manoj Jain passed an interim order on his petition, with the main matter listed for July 22.

Political purposes

uring the hearing, senior advocate and Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who appeared for Kejriwal, submitted that the summons issued under Section 50 do not even reveal whether the person summoned is a witness, suspect or accused.

He said his client was apprehending arrest “for political purposes”.

“What prevented you from arresting him, and why are you issuing summonses back-to-back?” the court also asked ED during the arguments.

To that, Additional Solicitor General SV Raju replied that the agency never said they would arrest him.

“The power is there. (However) You come to join the investigation, we may or may not arrest you,” Raju said.

The Additional Solicitor General opposed the plea for interim protection from arrest on maintainability grounds, submitting that the petition was seeking to quash and set aside all proceedings qua the petitioner in the capacity of his being national convener of a political party.

“But here, AAP has not been made an accused yet and the fact that he’s challenged means that his figment of imagination can’t lead to a grant of relief. A person or entity that has not been made an accused can’t seek to strike down a provision,” Raju said.

On Wednesday, during the hearing in a related matter at the Delhi High Court, Kejriwal’s lawyers stated that they have apprehension that the ED will arrest him, adding that he was ready to appear if he was given protection.

Kejriwal, through his plea, sought the declaration of Section (2) (s) OF PMLA to be ultravires, unconstitutional and arbitrary insofar it is construed to include a political party within its ambit and sweep.

Kejriwal’s plea stated that the present petition is being filed in extremely urgent and emergent circumstances where such arbitrary procedure under PMLA is sought to be employed “to create a non-level playing field for the impending general elections scheduled to be held from April 19, 2024, and to skew the electoral process in the favour of the ruling party at the Centre that controls the ED through the Ministry of Finance”.