Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal remanded in custody in corruption case

It is the first time in India a sitting chief minister has been arrested

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A special court on Friday ordered Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal to be remanded in custody for six days over allegations of corruption over a now-scrapped alcohol policy in the Indian capital.

Mr Kejriwal, who leads the city’s ruling Aam Aadmi Party, was detained on Thursday by federal financial crimes police.

The Enforcement Directorate, the investigating agency that reports to the Indian government, has accused Mr Kejriwal and his AAP colleagues of taking kickbacks of around one billion rupees ($12 million) to pass a favourable liquor policy.

The agency had asked the court to grant it 10 days to question Mr Kejriwal over his role in the alleged scam, but the judge rejected that plea and remanded him in custody until March 28.

Mr Kejriwal, who swiftly rose in India’s political landscape as an anti-corruption crusader, had rejected the allegations and accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of a political vendetta.

India will hold its national elections next month, with Mr Modi’s party seen as a dominant force amid opposition allegations that the government is misusing institutions against them.

Hundreds of Mr Kejiriwal's supporters hit the streets in Delhi and the northern Punjab state, where his party rules, to protest against his arrest late on Thursday, hours after the Delhi High Court had refused to grant him protection from arrest.

The Enforcement Directorate had summoned him several times for questioning but he had ignored the summons, claiming that they were “illegal”.

The prosecutor told the court that Mr Kejriwal, who founded the AAP, is a “kingpin” of a scam involving several businessmen and politicians.

“He was directly involved in the implementation of the policy … demanded kickbacks in exchange for favours … This is corroborated by statements,” SV Raju, Additional Solicitor General, argued for the Enforcement Directorate.

“He is involved in the use of proceeds of crime,” he alleged.

The agency has claimed that 450 million rupees of kickbacks were used to fund AAP in the Goa and Punjab state elections in 2022.

Several of Mr Kejriwal's party colleagues, including Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, have remained in custody pending trial over the accusations since last year.

Mr Modi’s government over the years has brought in stringent provisions against money laundering to weed out “black money” and corruption, with the accused finding it hard to secure bail from courts.

“There is no direct evidence … There is neither a necessity nor a need to arrest. Nothing to show that he cannot give the information without arrest,” Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Mr Kejriwal’s counsel, told the special court.

Mr Kejriwal had moved a plea before the Supreme Court late on Thursday against his arrest but withdrew it early on Friday due to legal technicalities.

The AAP has accused Mr Modi’s government of a witch hunt against Mr Kejriwal and his party.

“Even after two years, there has been no recovery of even one rupee or any evidence. This shows the [Bharatiya Janata Party's] fear and Modi’s fears. They think that one leader who can challenge them is Arvind Kejriwal and crush him,” said Atishi, an AAP leader.

The Delhi alcohol policy was aimed at privatising the liquor business and would have led to the government's exit from the trade in 2021. Officials said it aimed to increase revenue and eliminate black marketing of spirits.

It was cancelled by the government after the allegations emerged, with most of the 849 private alcohol shops shutting.

Mr Kejriwal’s arrest comes at a crucial time, so close to national elections.

This is the first time in the country that a sitting chief minister has been arrested, sparking outrage and condemnation from Mr Modi’s political rivals.

Opposition party leaders, mainly those of the Congress-led INDIA alliance, have condemned Mr Kejriwal's detention.

The AAP is a key ally of the bloc, which is contesting the election against the dominant National Democratic Alliance, led by Mr Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party.

“A scared dictator wants to create a dead democracy,” Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said, referring to Mr Modi.

Sharad Pawar, a veteran leader from the Nationalist Congress Party (SP), called Mr Kejriwal’s arrest “unconstitutional”.

Police in New Delhi detained dozens of supporters of AAP during a protest march on Friday, with the party calling for a demonstration outside the BJP headquarters in the capital city on March 26.

Security had been beefed up on key roads across the capital city, with anti-riot police deployed at sensitive places.

Updated: March 28, 2024, 12:42 PM