Graft charges framed against Virbhadra Singh, wife

Shimla: Two days after union minister and former Himachal Pradesh chief minister Virbhadra Singh celebrated his birthday and 50 years in politics, a court here Monday framed corruption charges against him and his wife Pratibha Singh.

Special Judge B.L. Soni, while pronouncing the order, said the “materials on record show existence of criminal conspiracy by Virbhadra and Pratibha Singh”.

The trial court adjourned the case sine die pending a Himachal Pradesh High Court decision on Virbhadra Singh’s petition seeking either the transfer of the corruption case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) or quashing a police complaint against him and his wife.

It means the trial court will now hear the case after a green signal from the high court.

“Charges framed under Section 120-B of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Sections 7, 11 and 13 (1) (d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act against accused Virbhadra Singh and under Section 120-B of the IPC and Section 9 of the Prevention of Corruption Act against accused Pratibha Singh,” the 31-page order said.

It said: “Since the accused are not present today (Monday), hence charges could not read over and explained to them today.”

However, defence counsel Shrawan Dogra, in a signed statement to the media, said: “After forming opinion to frame charge, (the court) has to put the charge to the accused and explain it to him. Then accused is asked whether he pleads guilty or not or he claims trial. Then accused is asked to sign the charges framed against him. This is the complete framing of charge, which exercise has not been undertaken today in view of the high court’s interim direction.”

The prosecution had filed the charge sheet against the couple in October 2010.

Virbhadra Singh and Pratibha Singh were booked by Himchal Pradesh Police Aug 3, 2009, under the Prevention of Corruption Act for alleged misuse of official position and criminal misconduct when he was the chief minister in 1989.

According to the police, the couple was booked on the basis of an audio cassette released by Virbhadra Singh’s political adversary Vijai Singh Mankotia in 2007.

The cassette allegedly contained Virbhadra Singh’s telephonic conversation with Indian Administrative Service officer Mohinder Lal, who is now dead.

It also contained voices of his wife and some industrialists, who have been identified by the police, proposing to invest in the state.

The trial court order said: “The materials collected show the existence of ‘strong suspicion’ qua the involvement of the accused persons”.

“The matter of grant of permission for establishment of cement plant by Gujarat Ambuja Ltd. and installation of effluent treatment plant by Mohan Meakin Ltd. (a known brewery in Solan town) was pending consideration of the government of which Virbhadra was the chief minister and his wife Pratibha Singh assured the clearance of the projects,” observed the court.

It said: “As per the procedure prescribed, the arrival of the project, i.e. the cement plant, was to be accorded approval by a sub-committee of four ministers but accused Virbhadra accorded approval without obtaining consent of two other ministers. They are alleged to have received illegal gratification worth Rs.500,000 and thereafter, cement plant clearance was given.”

“Mohan Meakin was further granted time for the completion of the plant/machinery. Accused Virbhadra being chief minister was the public servant. The materials on record show existence of criminal conspiracy against Virbhadra, Pratibha Singh and deceased Mohinder Lal.”

While hearing the petition of Virbhadra Singh, who has been the state’s chief minister five times in the past, the high court in January observed that the trial court was free to examine the accused.

The division bench of Chief Justice Kurian Joseph and Justice V.K. Ahuja said: “The trial court is free to examine the accused.”

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