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Ex-PM Rao, Chandraswami let off in cheating case
Our Legal Correspondent

Controversial godman Chandraswami outside the special court in New Delhi
Controversial godman Chandraswami outside the special court in New Delhi on Monday. — PTI photo

New Delhi, December 22
Former Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao, who faced three criminal cases soon after relinquishing office in May 1996, is finally free from the legal wrangle as a Special Court here today acquitted him in the $ 1 lakh Lakhubhai Pathak cheating case.

Rao had been exonerated by the courts earlier in the JMM MPs bribery case and the St Kitts forgery case.

Pronouncing his judgement in a packed Special Court at Vigyan Bhawan, Additional Sessions Judge Dinesh Dayal also acquitted ‘tantrik’ Chandraswami and his secretary Kailash Nath Agrawal, alias ‘Mamaji’, the key accused in the case, filed against them by the late Lakhubhai Pathak on September 25, 1987.

“Lakhubhai Pathak was not a reliable witness. His evidence cannot be accepted without corroboration as he had been constantly changing and improving upon his story,” the judge said.

He had not even explained the delay in filing of the complaint with the CBI about his alleged cheating, the court said. Pathak was allegedly cheated by Chandraswami and Mamaji of his money during the months of December 1983 and January 1984.

The CBI had initially chargesheeted Chandraswami and Mamaji in 1996, nine years after Pathak, had filed the complaint with the agency against them alleging that they had cheated him of $ 100,000 on a “false promise” that the duo would help him in getting newsprint and paper pulp supply contracts in India.

Rao had been made the accused by the court on July 9, 1996 when Pathak during recording of his statement as key CBI witness, alleged that the former Prime Minister was also involved in the conspiracy because as the External Affairs Minister, he had promised him in a New York hotel on December 22, 1983 that “his work as explained by Swamiji will be done”.

The court also criticised the CBI for not investigating the case properly, holding that Pathak was never questioned by the agency, which only had sent him a questionnaire, in response to which he made “voluntary” statement.

The statement given by Pathak to the CBI’s investigating officers, was a “well rehearsed” version of his story, which had various contradictions, the Judge said.

When asked for his comment on the acquittal by reporters present inside the Special Court at Vigyan Bhawan soon after the judge had retired to his chamber, Rao said “It is a positive decision, I am happy.”

He, however, refused to comment on the political significance of he being exonerated in all cases. But his counsel Kapil Sibal later told media persons outside the Vigyan Bhawan building that Rao had confided in him that “he was waiting for the moment for past eight years.”

“Each citizen of this country should be happy that our Prime Minister is not involved in any such corrupt practices,” said Sibal, also a senior Congress leader.

Rao, who was the only Congress Prime Minister outside the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty to complete full term in office and credited with bringing about economic reforms soon after assuming office in June 1991, had to quietly side-step from the centre stage of the Congress politics after he was chargesheeted in three criminal cases after relinquishing office.  

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