In response to a Chhattisgarh government application, the Supreme Court has sent the Enforcement Directorate (ED) a notice accusing the organisation of pressuring 52 employees of the state excise department to make statements implicating the chief minister Bhupesh Baghel and other top officials in an alleged liquor scam.
“No orders are being given by us. We are requesting complete information from the ED. A vacation bench comprising justices JK Maheshwari and PS Narasimha announced on Thursday that they would first examine their answer before taking up the case the following week. The case was scheduled for hearing on Monday.
The court also requested the ED's answer to the plea filed by Niranjan Das, the excise commissioner for Chhattisgarh, citing harassment despite his cooperation with the agency's investigation into the alleged fraud. It heard a second petition from three more defendants in the case who are accused of fleeing and not cooperating with investigators.
In support of ED, additional solicitor-general SV Raju challenged the state government's motion and charged it of shielding its personnel. “Being heard in the matter is not necessary.”
Raju called it a “big scam” that cost more than 308 crores. When they should have started with the high court, they instead went straight to the Supreme Court, according to Raju. He attempted to affidavitize his points.
Senior solicitors Mukul Rohatgi and Siddharth Dave, who argued on behalf of Das and the other accused, said that the court had granted similar directions in writ petitions submitted by other accused parties in the same case.
On May 17, the court ordered ED in one group of cases not to foster a climate of fear. “You capture the proper individuals if there's a fraud…The bench, which was headed by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, said at the time that not everyone was an accuser.
The state government was represented by senior attorney Kapil Sibal, who emphasised that the court had accepted the state's move for impleadment in the May 17 issue since the ED's inquiry lacked jurisdiction. He said that there was no underlying predicate crime serving as the foundation for ED to continue its investigation.
The income tax department charge sheet submitted in a Delhi court in 2022 against bureaucrat Anil Tuteja and others was allegedly related to the money laundering case in the suspected liquor scam, according to the ED. It was also alleged that the state government only granted certain manufacturers liquor licences in exchange for a commission.
The state administration claimed that ED was working under the orders of its “political masters” and that Bhagel was the target of their political meddling.