Bar bribe scam turns murkier, bar owner's tapes suggest leaders knew of graft

Thiruvananthapuram: Two audio recordings of telephone conversations between a whistleblower bar owner and leaders of Kerala's ruling UDF released Monday ostensibly showed that the politicians knew about the Rs.1 crore bribe allegedly taken by state Finance Minister K.M. Mani.

Whistleblower bar owner Biju Ramesh alleged in October 2014 that Rs.1 crore was given to Mani as the first instalment of the Rs.5 crore he demanded to help reopen bars in the state. Following the allegation, the vigilance department registered a case against Mani.

The audio recordings aired on TV channels Monday ostensibly revealed that Ramesh had called R. Balakrishna Pillai, a senior leader in the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF), who said he knew about the bribe allegedly demanded by Mani.

Pillai is heard saying he along with his son K.B. Ganesh Kumar - a former minister in the Chandy cabinet - had told the chief minister that Mani was taking bribes from several business groups.

Pillai is heard telling Ramesh that he should not backtrack on his statement, and should approach the Kerala High Court seeking a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into the bar graft case.

A second conversation involved Ramesh and P.C. George, government chief whip and party vice chairman of the Kerala Congress-Mani.

George is heard saying that even though he defends Mani on TV channel debates, it should not be given any importance.

Following the release of the tapes, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy Monday said no one could destabilise his government.

"My government cannot be destabilised by anyone, because this is a government that has the support of the people. The people are with us as could be seen with our victories in the bye-elections and also in the Lok Sabha elections," Chandy told reporters here.

Chandy also vehemently denied Pillai ever told him such things.

"I have not met Pillai for some time now and he has never said any such thing to me at all," the chief minister said.

Pillai later told reporters that it was wrong of Ramesh to have made a private conversation public.

"I do not deny anything what has been aired. I had told Chandy about this and also of another minister who was taking bribes," Pillai said.

Defending himself, George said all that he did while speaking to Ramesh was to save Mani.

Ramesh said he will hand over the audio tape to the vigilance department Tuesday.

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