Thiruvananthapuram: Even as the UDF camp was gung ho, with KPCC president V M Sudheeran following up on Chief Minister Oommen Chandy's logic of favourable circumstances and saying the re-induction of former Finance Minister K M Mani into the Cabinet was Mr Chandy's call, the Enquiry Commissioner and Special (Judge) Vigilance John K Illikadan could explore many options under the Criminal Procedure Code while considering the further probe report filed by Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau (VACB) on Saturday.
According to sources, the Vigilance court is likely to issue notices to 10 petitioners, including Opposition leader V S Achuthanandan, and prime witness and bar owner Biju Ramesh, seeking objections if any to the closure report. They may be given an opportunity to produce any additional evidence and present arguments.
The further investigation report filed by the Vigilance special investigation unit I SP, Mr R S Sukesan, on Wednesday recommended dropping the case, stating that circumstantial evidences regarding bar owners' bribing Mr Mani at his residence in Pala and official residence at Cliff House were also found to be false following the verification of mobile tower locations.
According to sources, the Vigilance judge has several options. He could straightaway accept the closure report if he is convinced about its logic, mainly the absence of any prosecutable evidence.
The second option is that even if he is convinced, for the sake of fair play he could permit the petitioners and the prime witness to challenge Mr Sukesan's findings and allow them to further agitate the matter in arguments. But each petitioner may not get the opportunity to present the arguments unless a new point is raised.
The judge would also have to look into additional proof, if any, being presented by complainants.
Yet another possibility is that after analyzing arguments/ additional evidence, the court could even order further investigation. Sources say there were instances of the Court directing a further probe and even entrusting the probe to another officer.
Vigilance stares at a big credibility crisis
The credibility of the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau (VACB), especially Special Investigation Unit-I SP R Sukesan, is at stake in view of the somersault in his findings in the bar bribery allegation against former finance minister K M Mani, even as the Vigilance now claims to have done a meticulous and fair probe.
The initial investigation by Mr. Sukesan had pointed out many circumstantial evidences with regard to the bar owners' presence at Mr. Mani's house in Cliff House compound and Pala on the days in which the alleged transactions took place as well as undue postponing of cabinet decision on bar licence issue. It was on the basis of these circumstantial evidences that Mr. Sukesan even suggested that Mani could be prosecuted. This even led to the court ordering further probe and Mani's subsequent resignation.
The same investigation team headed by Mr. Sukesan that conducted further probe has now disproved its own earlier findings with the support of mobile phone location details as well as government's rules of business.
This somersault of the investigation officer poses many questions on the competency of the Vigilance and even sparked off serious suspicions of government's unholy influences over the functioning of the vigilance.
Vigilance officials who maintain that there were no pressures on the vigilance and that the present probe was done meticulously, even admit that there could have been a lapse on the part of investigation team in looking into various basic aspects during the initial probe.
“Had the initial probe looked into aspects like Govt's Rules of Business and verified tower locations of bar owners and others involved in the alleged monetary transactions, such embarrassments to the VACB and the government could have been avoided. It seems the investigation officials were carried away by the general sentiments and perceptions,” a Vigilance source said.
Sources in the vigilance told DC on condition of anonymity that the fresh evidences that disproved the allegations were dug out following the intervention of present Vigilance director Mr. Shanker Reddy. ADGP (Vigilance) Mr. Reddy, who was given charge of the director subsequent to the unceremonious exit of Vinson M Paul with adverse remarks from court, had analysed the initial reports and posed a set of queries to the investigation team.
Subsequently in-depth analysis of mobile phone locations and call details of all those who figured in the alleged bribe transactions were made and discrepancies unearthed. "It seems that Biju Ramesh had fabricated the story in such a manner so as to get some eyewitnesses to certain earlier sequences of meetings of bar owners with Mr. Mani," said the source.
The serious discrepancies in the initial findings of the vigilance as well as the present report could come up for legal scrutiny at the Enquiry Commissioner and Special (Judge) Vigilance in the coming days, sources said.