Saturday, September 30, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Rao, Buta convicted in JMM bribery case
Bhajan Lal, Satish, Ajit acquitted
Tribune News Service

NEW DELHI, Sept 29 — In a landmark judgement of criminal conviction at the highest level, former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao and former Union Minister Buta Singh, were convicted in the JMM MPs bribery case by a Special CBI Court here today.

Nine other accused, including former Haryana Chief Minister Bhajan Lal, were, however, acquitted in the case on the benefit of the doubt.

Pronouncing the judgement in a jam-packed courtroom, the Special CBI Judge, Mr Ajit Bharihoke, said the court found Rao and Buta Singh guilty of “conspiracy” and “abetment” in the bribery case.

Rao becomes the first former Prime Minister to be convicted in a criminal case. He is also, perhaps, the second erstwhile chief executive of a country to be convicted in a bribery case in the world.

Rao and Buta Singh have been found guilty on several counts. These are under Section 120-B of the IPC (criminal conspiracy) read with Section (7, 12, 13 (2) read with 13 (10 (d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, (PCA), 1988.

While Section 7 of the PCA pertains to acceptance of bribe, Section 12 is for abetment to the crime of bribery, Section 13 (2) pertains to obtaining undue pecuniary benefit.

Mr Bharihoke fixed October 11 to hear the convicts on the quantum of sentence to be awarded to them. The offences of corruption under the PCA for which they have been convicted carry a maximum sentence of seven years and a minimum of six months.

Of the three CBI cases filed against Rao, he is still facing trial in the $ 100,000 Lakhubhai Pathak cheating case, but has been discharged in the St. Kitts forgery case.

The Special CBI prosecutor, Mr R.M. Tiwari said if the court awarded a sentence more than three years to the convicts, they would have to be taken into custody immediately after the pronouncement of the quantum of sentence.

However, if the sentence is for less than three years, they would be enlarged on bail and given one-month’s time to file an appeal in the higher court, he added.

Pronouncing the order, Mr Bharihoke said the CBI had been able to prove the role of Rao and Buta Singh in criminal conspiracy and abetment of the crime to save the minority Congress government during the no-confidence motion in the Lok Sabha on July 28, 1993.

The Congress government had just managed to sail through the motion by a margin of 14 votes.

The court relied upon the statement of the approver, Mr Shailendra Mahato, who had said each JMM MP had received Rs 50 lakh soon after the no-confidence motion against the Rao government was defeated.

The court held that recovery of money from the Naroji Nagar branch of Punjab National Bank in south Delhi substantiated the statement of the approver.

“This evidence was sufficient to prove the prosecution case against accused Mr Rao and Mr Buta Singh”, the Judge said.

The former Prime Minister refused to comment on the verdict and immediately left Vigyan Bhavan, which had been transformed into a courtroom for the case for security reasons by the Supreme Court. However, his counsel, Mr R. K. Anand, said, “I cannot comment unless I go through the judgement”.

“We are waiting for the argument on the quantum of sentence”, he said, adding that “an appeal against the verdict would certainly be filed." The former Union Minister and presently an MP, Buta Singh, who was also convicted in the case, refused to comment on the verdict.

When pressed by newspersons for his reaction, who had gathered in large numbers, Buta Singh said, “I will have to go through the judgement before reacting”.

Those acquitted were V. Rajeshwara Rao, a relative of the former Prime Minister, former Union Ministers Satish Sharma and Ajit Singh, former Chief Ministers Bhajan Lal (Haryana) and Veerappa Moily (Karnataka), former Karnataka ministers H.M. Revenna and Ramalinga Reddy, Bangalore-based liquor barons M. Thimme Gowda and D.K. Adikeshavalu.

Counsel for Rashtriya Mukti Morcha, the organisation which had filed a public interest litigation exposing the horse-trading, Mr P.N. Lekhi, said, “I am not very satisfied with the judgement”.

“Had the CBI investigated the case properly or had the Supreme Court not passed the ruling that MPs taking bribe to vote in Parliament enjoyed Constitutional immunity against prosecution, all the accused would have been convicted,” he said.

While acquitting Mr Ajit Singh, Capt Satish Sharma and Mr Bhajan Lal the court said the CBI has failed to substantiate its charges against the three accused as many material witnesses had turned hostile during the recording of evidence.\

Capt Satish Sharma, in his reaction to the verdict, said, “I was falsely implicated in the case, but I had full faith in the judiciary”.

Former Union Minister Ajit Singh, who was acquitted in the case said, “In fact, I had voted against the Rao government during the no-confidence motion”.

“It was an unnecessary headache for me, “Mr Ajit Singh said referring to the long-drawn trial which began on September 25, 1997. The CBI filed three chargesheets between October 1996 and January 1997, naming 21 as accused. While one of the accused. Shailendra Mahato, was allowed to become an approver, nine were discharged in the light of a Supreme Court order on April 17, 1998, ruling that MPs taking bribe to vote in Parliament enjoyed Constitutional immunity against prosecution.

Subsequently, the CBI also scaled down the number of witnesses from about 250, stating that most of them had become irrelevant in the light of the apex court verdict.

The nine accused who were discharged were the three former Jharkhand Mukti Morcha MPs — Simon Marandi, Shibu Soren and Suraj Mandal (besides Mahato who was also JMM MP) and the former breakaway Janata Dal (A) MP — Ramlakhan Singh Yadav, who was also a Union Minister, Abhay Pratap Singh, Anadi Charan Das, Ram Sharan Roshan Lal and Haji Gulam Mohammed.

During the final arguments in the trial court, the CBI contended that the “summary of clinching evidence and incriminating circumstances presented” had made it clear that “there is sufficient evidence” against all 11 accused.

The accused, in their individual personal statement and arguments through their counsel, however, maintained that no witness had deposed against them.

The Special CBI Judge had reserved his judgement on May 28 at the end of a three-year-long trial during which many key witnesses, among the 100-odd who deposed in the court, had turned hostile.


Rao to move HC

NEW DELHI, Sept 29 (PTI) — Counsel for former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, who was convicted in the multi-crore JMM MPs bribery case, today said his client would appeal against the trial court verdict in the high court.

“We will certainly appeal against the verdict in the high court,” counsel R.K. Anand told reporters outside the 9, Motilal Nehru Marg residence of the former premier after a meeting with him.

He, however, said the appeal would be filed after the Special Court pronounces the sentence on October 11. Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar met Rao after the pronouncement of the judgement. Rao had refused to comment on the verdict immediately after the judgement.

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