NEW DELHI: Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal was questioned for nearly nine hours by the CBI on Sunday as a witness in the excise policy case, amid protests by his party as the AAP chief claimed that the allegations of scam were false and the agency was acting at the BJP’s behest.
”I was asked around 56 questions. I answered them all…as I said earlier we have nothing to hide. The alleged liquor scam is false, fabricated and motivated by dirty politics… We will die but not give up honesty,” Kejriwal told reporters after leaving the CBI headquarters at around 8.30 pm.
The agency had summoned Kejriwal on Friday last seeking his appearance as a witness before the investigation team.
”The Chief Minister of Delhi was issued a notice under section 160 CrPC for his examination in this case on April 16, 2023 and answering various questions related to the case. He joined the investigation today and his statement has been recorded under section 161 CrPC,” a CBI spokesperson said in a statement after questioning was over. The Kejriwal’s statement will be verified and collated with the available evidence, he said. Section 161 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) refers to recording the statement of a witness by a police officer. In a video message this morning, the Aam Aadmi Party chief, who received solidarity messages from several opposition leaders after being summoned by the agency, claimed that the BJP might have ordered the CBI to arrest him.
The BJP, which has alleged that Kejriwal was the ”kingpin”, said it was not the time for rhetoric but accountability and demanded his resignation.
BJP national spokesperson Sambit Patra said on Sunday that probe agencies such as CBI and ED work on the basis of facts, not emotions.
Officials said the CBI asked the chief minister about the (excise) policy formulation process, especially the ”untraceable” file, which was earlier slated to be put before the Council of Ministers.
They said the file containing opinions of the expert committee and public and legal opinions on it was not kept before the council and remains untraceable.
Kejriwal was also asked if he was involved in the formulation of the policy before it was approved, they said.
It is alleged that the Delhi government’s excise policy for 2021-22 to grant licences to liquor traders favoured certain dealers who had allegedly paid bribes for it, a charge strongly refuted by the AAP. The policy was later scrapped.
Kejriwal visited Mahatma Gandhi’s memorial at Raj Ghat this morning and was accompanied by Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann and some cabinet colleagues to the CBI office.
While he was being questioned, several senior AAP leaders were ”detained” by the Delhi Police during a sit-in at Archbishop Road against his summoning.
The detainees included Rajya Sabha MPs Sanjay Singh and Raghav Chadha, Delhi ministers Saurabh Bharadwaj, Atishi and Kailash Gahlot, AAP spokesperson Adil Ahmad Khan, AAP general secretary Pankaj Gupta and some ministers in the Punjab government.
”The Delhi Police has arrested us for sitting peacefully and is taking us to some unknown place…what kind of dictatorship is this?” Chadha tweeted.
”BJP suffers from chronic Kejriwal-phobia,” he alleged.
Mann, who also joined the sit-in, had left the spot before the AAP leaders’ detention.
”Around 1,500 people have been detained or arrested by police across Delhi for staging protests. Thirty-two Delhi MLAs and 70 councillors have been arrested in the city and 20 Punjab AAP MLAs have been arrested at the Delhi border,” AAP Delhi convener Gopal Rai claimed at a press conference.
Rai also chaired an ”emergency meeting” of its office-bearers to decide the party’s next course of action.
The AAP chief was taken to the first-floor office of the Anti-Corruption Branch of the CBI, which is probing the matter, after arriving at the heavily fortified agency headquarters at around 11 pm.
Sources said Kejriwal was questioned for nearly nine hours. He was offered a lunch break and he chose not to go outside the CBI office.
Senior officials of the agency remained present in the office on Sunday to keep an eye on the development, a normal course whenever a VIP comes to the agency, the sources said.
The agency also quizzed Kejriwal on the statements of other accused, where they have indicated the manner in which policy was allegedly influenced to favour some liquor businessmen and the South liquor lobby.
In addition, the officials said the agency sought to know his role in formulating the excise policy and his knowledge about the alleged influence being cast by the traders and South lobby members.
AAP leader Manish Sisodia was arrested on February 26 after nearly eight hours of questioning in the case with officials saying his answers were not satisfactory. He quit as deputy chief minister of Delhi on February 28.
”I have been summoned by CBI today and I will give all the answers with honesty. These people are very powerful. They can send anyone to jail, it does not matter if that person has committed any crime or not,” Kejriwal said in his five-minute video message on Twitter before heading to the CBI office.
”Since yesterday, all of their leaders are screaming at top of their voices that Kejriwal will be arrested and I think BJP has instructed CBI also that Kejriwal should be arrested. If BJP has given an order, then who is CBI? CBI is going to arrest me,” he said.
BJP leaders and workers held a protest at Raj Ghat demanding Kejriwal’s resignation.
”When Kejriwal gets trapped, he remembers Mahatma Gandhi, although he has ordered for removing Gandhi’s portrait from offices of his government,” Delhi BJP chief Virendra Sachdeva charged.
Asked about the CBI action, BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra said the investigation agency wants to find out: Who is the kingpin of the Delhi liquor scam? Did Manish Sisodia solely make this excise policy on his own, or someone else is also involved in this?” Patra also posed some questions to Kejriwal at the press conference in Bhubaneswar.
”The Delhi liquor policy was passed by the cabinet on your instructions at your residence and time and again you have claimed this Delhi excise policy will bring huge benefits to the State’s treasury, but instead a loss of Rs 3,000 crore was incurred and you had to withdraw the excise policy,” he said.
Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju alleged that the AAP used activist Anna Hazare to capture power in the name of corruption.
Security was stepped up at the CBI headquarters with the Delhi Police putting in place four rings of barricading.
Over 1,000 security personnel, including from paramilitary forces, were deployed outside the CBI headquarters and Section 144 of the CrPC had also been imposed in the area to ensure no gathering of more than four persons takes place, the officials said.
Security had also been tightened outside the office of the AAP at Rouse Avenue, they said.
Several AAP leaders, including Punjab ministers and MLAs, alleged they were stopped from entering Delhi.
The ruling party in Punjab claimed that ministers Bram Shanker Jimpa, Balbir Singh and Harjot Singh Bains, and MLAs Dinesh Chadha and Kuljit Randhawa were among those stopped at the Singhu border.
As AAP workers held protests against the summoning of Chief Minister Kejriwal, traffic snarls were reported from many parts of the national capital.
Protests were reported from other states also. AAP workers tried to gherao the CBI office in Jaipur but the police thwarted their attempt. Later, the party workers blocked the Tonk Road at the Narayan Singh Circle and raised slogans against the Centre.
Source: Press Trust of India