Court frames charges against Virbhadra
A court in Shimla today framed charges of corruption and misuse of public office against Union Minister for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Virbhadra Singh. The minister's wife, former MP Pratibha Singh, was charged with corruption and criminal conspiracy.
Special Judge (Anti-Corruption) B L Soni delivered the order two days after Virbhadra Singh, who has been chief minister of Himachal Pradesh five times and is the tallest Congress leader in the state, celebrated his 78th birthday and 50 years in public life. Singh and his wife were not present in court.
"Charges are framed against Virbhadra Singh under Section 120 B IPC and Sections 7, 11 and 13 (I)(d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, and under Sections 120 B IPC and Section 9 of Shimla court frames charges against Virbhadra the PC Act against Pratibha Singh," the judge said in his 32-page order.
The state Vigilance and Anti Corruption Bureau registered the case against Virbhadra Singh in August 2009, a few days after he joined the union cabinet. The case hinges on a controversial audio CD released by former minister Major (retd) Vijai Singh Mankotia in May 2007, levelling serious charges of corruption and illegal financial deals against Singh, who was then chief minister.
The CD has voices purported to be that of Virbhadra Singh and his wife, who are allegedly in conversation with IAS officer Mohinder Lal, the then director (Industries). The conversation allegedly relates to financial transactions involving representatives of cement giant Gujarat Ambuja and beverages and food processing major Mohan Meakin.
The conversation was recorded in 1989, but came to light only in 2007, a few months before the assembly elections of that year. Key witness Lal is now dead.
"There are sufficient grounds to proceed further in the case as the materials collected show existence of strong suspicions qua the involvement of accused persons. They are alleged to have received illegal gratification worth Rs five lakhs and thereafter cement plant clearance was given, and M/s Mohan Meakin was further granted time for completion of the plant/machinery," the court said.
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