New Delhi: The Delhi High Court Wednesday refused to stay the trial court order to frame charges against former Himachal Pradesh chief minister Virbhadra Singh for allegedly amassing disproportionate assets (DA) worth over Rs 10 crore.
Justice Sunil Gaur also sought CBI’s response on pleas of Singh and his wife Pratibha challenging the trial court order to frame charges against him.
“Let the charges be framed in the trial court. I am not going to pass any interim order,” the judge said and posted the matter for April 16.
The 82-year-old Congress leader and his wife have sought quashing of the December 10, 2018 trial court order directing framing of charges against them and seven others in the case lodged by CBI.
The high court was informed by senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing Singh, that the matter is listed before the trial court on February 22 for formal framing of charges.
During the hearing, CBI special public prosecutor Anil Grover told the court that the agency has already filed an appeal before the Supreme Court challenging a limited part of the high court’s March 31, 2017 order in which it had said that the consent issue will be adjudicated by the trial court and notice was earlier issued to Singh.
Before the apex court, the CBI has sought clarification on the nature of sanction needed from a government to probe any offence committed in the state.
The CBI had contended before the high court that there was a general consent granted by the Himachal Pradesh government on August 24, 1990 to probe offences of central government employees in the territory of the state.
Singh, on the other hand, had contended in the high court that the consent order does not take within its scope a central minister, who served as a public servant in
Delhi under the central government.
Singh has claimed in the plea that the offence of possessing disproportionate assets under the Prevention of Corruption Act, if any, is said to have been committed in Himachal Pradesh and the consent of the state government is necessary to initiate an investigation.
The plea has contended that the trial court was only required to look into the effect of the investigation conducted without consent and not to look into the law as to whether consent was necessary.
It has said the special judge has wrongly held that sanction for prosecution under Section 197 of the CrPC was not required to be taken as the charges are framed under the IPC and Singh was serving as the chief minister of Himachal Pradesh at the time of taking cognisance of the charge sheet.
The trial court, in its December, 2018 order, had said that Singh intended to cause loss to tax authorities by presenting unaccounted money as sale proceeds of apples and had also ordered framing of charges against his wife and seven others for allegedly abetting in the offences.
The other seven accused in the case are LIC agent Anand Chauhan, Chunni Lal Chauhan, Joginder Singh Ghalta, Prem Raj, Vakamulla Chandrasekhar, Lawan Kumar Roach and Ram Prakash Bhatia.
The trial court had said that Virbhadra Singh and Anand Chauhan “fraudulently and dishonestly” signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) by ante-dating it to give an impression that it was signed on June 15, 2008 by them.
It had added that since the document was made for showing unaccounted money as sale proceeds of apples, they were liable to be charged for the offence of forgery.
The punishment for the offences of criminal misconduct and disproportionate assets under the PC Act ranges between one to seven years jail term, forgery under IPC entails a maximum of two years imprisonment and the offence of cheating could lead to a maximum sentence of seven years.
On the role of his wife, the court had said there was “grave suspicion” that she committed the offence of abetment under the IPC.
The CBI had registered the case against Singh and others for allegedly amassing assets worth around Rs 10 crore disproportionate to their known source of income when he was the Union minister in the UPA government.
A charge sheet running into over 500 pages, filed in the trial court, claimed that Singh had amassed assets worth around Rs 10 crore which were disproportionate by 192 per cent of his total income during his tenure as a Union Minister.
The final report, filed against nine people for alleged offences punishable under section 109 (abetment) and 465 (punishment for forgery) of IPC and Prevention of Corruption Act, arrayed around 225 witnesses and 442 documents.
The matter was transferred by the Supreme Court from the Himachal Pradesh High Court to the Delhi High Court, which on April 6, 2016 had asked the CBI not to arrest Singh and had directed him to join the probe.