The ED.

The ED.

Neta-babudom jittery as ED out to unravel big time money laundering in Punjab

The multi-crore scam smells of a big time money laundering racket

Agency Report | New Delhi | 29 July, 2020 | 11:10 PM

As the Enforcement Directorate (ED) turns the heat on the liquor mafia, politicians and bureaucrats in Punjab in one of the biggest liquor scams in the country, the police and the state excise department seem to be buying time in sharing evidence with the central probe agency.

The multi-crore scam, which smells of a big time money laundering racket, is giving sleepless nights to several prominent politicians close to power.

Top sources in the ED said that Punjab Police had been asked to provide copies of FIRs, investigation findings and bank details of those involved in the liquor scam. The ED is also awaiting crucial documents to be handed over by the Punjab Excise Department, which raided distilleries and bottling plants in the past two years.

When asked about not providing the information to the ED, an official on behalf of the Principal Secretary (Excise and Taxation) said, “We will respond as per rules.”

The scam, according to the opposition parties Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), runs into several thousand crores of rupees. SAD President Sukhbir Singh Badal has said that illicit liquor trade in Punjab has robbed the state exchequer to the tune of Rs 5,600 crore.

The SAD has alleged that at least 4 MLAs of Congress and top bureaucrats are involved in the scam. Initial findings also point towards a political-bureaucrat nexus which patronised the liquor mafia in the state.

The scam was unearthed in May during the lockdown when an illegal liquor bottling plant was busted in Shambu area of Ghanaur constituency in Patiala. A Congress sarpanch, Amrik Singh, and Dipesh Kumar of Rajpura, an aide of a ruling party MLA, were booked in the matter.

A few days later, a large quantity of raw alcohol was recovered from Pabri village of Ghanaur. Similarly, an illegal distillery was also unearthed in Khanna. Several places in Ludhiana too were raided by the police.

Sources said that several distilleries, in connivance with the excise officials, were also reportedly involved in liquor smuggling. Once a truckload of liquor is smuggled out of the distilleries, the liquor mafia transports it to different parts of the country, including Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and even Bihar, where alcohol is prohibited.

The all-powerful mafia was able to carry on its smuggling operations even during the countrywide lockdown since March 25. SAD leaders alleged that the liquor mafia and the ruling party leaders are hand-in-glove.

Barbed with such serious allegations, Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh promised to book the guilty and constituted a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to unravel the nexus which has been actively hitting the excise revenues of the state.

Meanwhile, when Chief Minister’s media advisor Raveen Thukral was contacted on the non-cooperation of the state agencies with the ED, he did not respond to the IANS query. (IANS)