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Andhra Pradesh's excise minister Mopidevi arrested, quits cabinet
May, 25th 2012

The CBI on Thursday effected the first high-profile arrest in the Jagan assets case by taking excise minister Mopidevi Venkataramana into custody and charging him with criminal conspiracy, fraud, criminal breach of trust and falsification of accounts, specifically pertaining to the Vanpic deal. Soon after, Mopidevi was produced before the CBI court at Nampally and remanded in judicial custody till June 7. However, the CBI was given custody for the first six days beginning Thursday evening during which period the minister will be confined to Dilkusha Guest House, the CBI's make-shift office.

Mopidevi was arrested two hours after he appeared for questioning for the second successive day at Dilkusha Guest House. As if on cue, an aide of the excise minister handed over his resignation to chief minister Kiran Kumar Reddy who in turn forwarded it to Raj Bhavan.

Within minutes after the excise minister's arrest was flashed by TV channels, his supporters in his native Guntur district went on the offensive and damaged about 10 vehicles, destroyed furniture at a couple of government offices and attacked a police sub-inspector with one loyalist attempting immolation. In protest against the arrest, his hometown of Nizampatnam and Repelle assembly constituency that he represents observed a spontaneous bandh on Thursday and is slated to hold another on Friday.

Soon after the arrest, the Congress distanced itself from Mopidevi, a pointer to the likely CBI action against the five other ministers who are linked to the Jagan assets case, namely Dharmana Prasada Rao, Sabita Indra Reddy, J Geeta Reddy, Ponnala Lakshmaiah and Kanna Lakshminarayana.

"In order to stave off criticism that only a BC leader (Mopidevi) has been arrested, Kiran Kumar Reddy is likely to press for the resignations of the other five ministers once the CBI calls them for questioning in the coming days," the sources said. However, after a late night meeting with the available ministers at his camp office on Thursday, the CM promised all legal support to the ministers being probed by the CBI.

Realising the arrest of Mopidevi was in works, the chief minister advised the excise minister to submit his resignation when the latter called on him on Wednesday night. However, Mopidevi refused due to political considerations but kept a letter ready. He did walk into the CBI office on Thursday with a smiling face and waving at the media, but by the time he appeared before CBI special judge A Pullaiah in the evening, it was a crestfallen, dejected and tired Mopidevi.

In view of the extensive media glare that the minister would be subjected to if he is made to commute between Chanchalguda Jail and the CBI office while under the custody of the investigating agency, Mopidevi's counsel requested the CBI judge to let his client remain at Dilkusha Guest House. And with the CBI not opposing this, the judge permitted accordingly.

Elected from Repalle assembly constituency in Guntur as a second-term legislator in 2004, Mopidevi was made technical education minister by Y S Rajasekhara Reddy in 2007 and shifted to investments, infrastructure and ports in 2008, a charge he held till 2010 when Kiran Kumar shifted him to excise.

As infrastructure, investments and ports minister, between July 2008 and July 2009, Mopidevi issued 11 GOs pertaining to the Vanpic project. The CBI has charged him with several violations pertaining to the concession agreement, land allocation and land acquisition for the 28,000-acre project in Guntur and Prakasam district.

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