Thiruvananthapuram: In a big setback to the ruling UDF in Kerala ahead of civic polls, a special court today observed there was "sufficient material" for making out a prima facie case" in the bar bribery case against state Finance Minister K M Mani, rejecting the final report seeking closure of the case and ordering further probe.
"From an overall analysis of the material available on record and from the events which followed in quick succession in the case, it can be seen that there are sufficient material for making out a prima facie case in respect to the alleged incident," Special Judge John K Illekadan observed.
He said this while passing the order for further investigation in the case and rejecting the final report of the Vigilance and Anti-corruption Bureau to close the case against Mani.
The special vigilance court directed the investigating officer to conduct further investigation in the matter and form an independent opinion on whether or not there is a case to place the accused on trial and file the report expeditiously.
Criticising the VACB director (Vincent M Paul) in preparing the final report, the court said the director "brushed aside" the contents of the factual report submitted by the investigating officer "under the guise of supervisory powers."
The director "did not" analyse the factual report and the material collected in its correct perspective, the court said.
"Such type of attitude on the part of superior officers have to be deprecated," it added.
On the role of the investigating officer in the case, the court said, "it appears that the investigation officer took earnest effort to conduct the investigation and he prepeared a well-considered report and submitted it before the VACB director."
Meanwhile, Paul said he was "proceeding on leave" as it will "not be proper" for him to continue in the post after the court rejected agency's closure report and directed further probe.
Mani, however, welcomed the verdict and said he was ready to face further probe.
Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said, "There is no need for Mani to resign. It is a usual legal process, it is not a final verdict. There is nothing unnatural in it." 82-year-old Mani, the Kerala Congress (M) supremo, the third largest partner in the ruling UDF, is the present chairman of Goods and Services Tax Empowered Committee.
However, slamming the Congress-led UDF, CPI-M led LDF Opposition renewed their demand for Mani's resignation in the wake of the verdict.
CPI-M State Secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan and CPI-M veteran V S Achuthanandan said, "Mani should not remain in power even for a day."
The new twist in the case is all set to become a major campaign material for the LDF opposition for the civic polls to be held on November 2 and 5 and also for next year's Assembly polls.
An FIR had been filed against Mani in the court last year after a 'quick verification' by the Vigilance Bureau on the allegations made by Kerala State Bar Hotel Owners's Association working President Biju Ramesh.
Triggering a controversy, Ramesh in October last year had alleged that Mani demanded Rs five crore as bribe from the Association and accepted Rs one crore as bribe for renewal of licence to 470 Indian made foreign liquor bars in 2014.
However, both Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and Mani have maintained that it was a politically motivated charge and had denied the allegations.