Chandigarh, June 15: Amid accusations that the state is targeting relatives and associates of former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, five employees of Wimpy International were today remanded in police custody till June 18.
The Punjab vigilance bureau had arrested them from Delhi’s Connaught Place outlet of Wimpy, owned by London-based Kanwal Sidhu, former officer on special duty and, reportedly a close family friend of Badal, the Shiromani Akali Dal president.
The arrests followed a “confession” by Hardeep Singh, Badal’s present officer on special duty.
Hardeep, facing a Prevention of Corruption Act case from August 29 for possessing assets disproportionate to his known sources of income, was harboured by the five, according to the bureau.
The arrest of a manager of the outlet, Yash Pal Dhawan, finance director R.K. Gupta, senior accounts officer Sanjeev Kulshreshta and drivers Harjinder Singh and Devinder Singh followed that of Narottam Singh Dhillon in Shimla last week. Dhillon, who is related to Badal, was held on corruption charges.
Vigilance bureau chief director A.P. Pandey, who is also state additional director-general of police, justified the arrests, saying the five were wanted for further investigations. Pandey is leading the probe against Badal.
According to sources, the bureau was laying stress on the former chief minister’s relatives and close associates as it had failed to produce evidence against him. Chief minister Amarinder Singh was bent on putting Badal behind bars on corruption charges before the Lok Sabha polls, they said.
“Akali unity and the inability of Amarinder to substantiate his charges against Badal — of owning assets to the tune of Rs 3,500 crore in India and abroad — have made the government take calculated risks,” a vigilance official said.
Manpreet, Badal’s nephew, said over phone from the former chief minister’s village: “What Amarinder is trying will not end or control corruption. He has taken an oath of being impartial. He is misusing government authority and power. At some level, it will work to our advantage. His vendetta is dirtying politics in the state.”
Refuting allegations last week of a witch-hunt against Badal, Amarinder said: “I have said that he (Badal) owns disproportionate assets amounting to Rs 3,500 crore. We will get that money back. He has looted the state.”
The prosecution today contended that the five Wimpy employees collected money from Hardeep on the directions of their employer Sidhu and recycled it into “white” before passing it to political bigwigs.
The defence argued that the five were arrested without any intimation to the local police or arrest warrants. They were then shown a copy of the bureau’s report to the Delhi police, submitted before the arrests.
The five accused claimed they had no links with either Badal or Hardeep.
Sidhu may tomorrow move Punjab and Haryana High Court against the arrests.
A Wimpy employee said over phone that the company was thinking of launching a media campaign in the UK and the US against the arrests, charging the government with harassing and intimidating NRIs investing in Punjab.
According to media reports, Sidhu had charged Amarinder with corrupt deals abroad.