Hours after the special CBI court acquitted all 19 accused in the alleged 2G spectrum scam, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) said they will move to a higher court against the trial court's verdict. The high-profile case dubbed as one of India's biggest political corruption scandals, saw former telecom minister A Raja and DMK chief M Karunanidhi's daughter Kanimozhi as accused, along with several other bureaucrats and business executives.
The agencies, which usually take months to “study” court orders before proceeding to file an appeal in higher court, declared within hours of the verdict that “it has been prima facie examined”. The judgment, which ran into 2,183 pages, included the one that stemmed from the Enforcement Directorate (ED)'s money laundering case.
The ED has decided to challenge the acquittal of the 19 accused in the 2G spectrum allocation case on the grounds that money laundering is a "standalone" crime, adding that the court cannot throw out ED's evidences, gathered through independent investigations under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), just because the scheduled offence being probed by the CBI has been found baseless and is being shut.
The CBI, on the other hand, argued that the court heavily relied on the oral evidence produced by the accused rather than the written and documentary evidence provided by the agency. CBI sources told CNN-News18 that usually the written evidence takes preference over witness accounts.
The court heavily criticised the investigative agency for its 'lackadaisical approach' and lack of enthusiasm, as the judge noted that some people created a scam by artfully arranging a few facts. "A huge scam was seen by everyone where there was none."
The Congress and DMK have meanwhile celebrated the order as a vindication of their stand. Congress leaders have sought an apology from the former Comptroller Auditor General Vinod Rai, some even suggesting he must be prosecuted and his role should be probed.
The BJP has remained guarded in its comments with Finance Minister Arun Jaitley suggesting that the Congress should not treat the verdict as a "badge of honour".
CBI, ED's argument for filing appeal
The ED had registered money laundering cases in the 2G case based on CBI FIRs. The central probe agency said the special CBI court "failed to appreciate a number of factors which, inter alia, position the offence of money laundering as standalone offence." It said the same court had "appreciated" the evidence put forth by the agency investigators at the time of framing of charges in this case. But, it said, the same material "appears to have not been considered while deciding the prosecution complaint (charge sheet) under the PMLA (Prevention of Money Laundering Act) and the accused persons have been acquitted from the offence of money laundering only on the basis of no commission of offence and not the occurrence of criminal activity."
The special CBI Judge OP Saini ruled in the ED case that, "In view of acquittal of accused in the case relating to scheduled offence (2G), there are no 'proceeds of crime'. "Proceeds of crime is the foundational fact for the offence of money laundering. Since there are no proceeds of crime, there can be no offence of money laundering, as nothing remains to be laundered. "Thus, the very base of the instant case is gone and the alleged offence stands wiped out."
Referring to the outcome of the main case, the court said, "The very basic fact required for constitution of an offence of money laundering, that is, proceeds of crime, is knocked out".
The agency, however, stressed that the thrust of the stringent and criminal provisions of PMLA is on the proceeds of crime, generated during the commission of the offence, and it only considers the "criminal activity instead of commission of an offence." "The acquittal by the court in PMLA prosecution by interpreting the term criminal activity to the extent of commission of an offence appears to be erroneous," it said.
The CBI, meanwhile, said that the evidence provided by has not been "fully appreciated in its proper perspective" by the court.
However, the court was highly critical of the ineffective prosecution.
The judge said, "For the last about seven years, on all working days, summer vacation included, I religiously sat in the open Court from 10 am to 5 pm, waiting for someone with some legally admissible evidence in his possession, but all in vain. Not a single soul turned up. This indicates that everybody was going by public perception created by rumour, gossip and speculation."
He also rapped the investigative agency for its lackadaisical approach in case.
"In the beginning, the prosecution started with the case with great enthusiasm and ardour. However, as the case progressed, it became highly cautious and guarded in its attitude making it difficult to find out as to what prosecution wanted to prove. However, by the end, the quality of prosecution totally deteriorated and it became directionless and diffident.
However, later and also in the final phase of the trial, no senior officer or prosecutor was willing to sign these applications or replies and the same used to be signed by a junior most officer Inspector Manoj Kumar posted in the court. This shows that neither any investigator nor any prosecutor was willing to take any responsibility for what was being filed or said in the court."
Congress jubilant, DMK hails 'historic verdict'
Buoyed by the verdict, the Congress and the DMK said "truth" has finally prevailed and that justice has been delivered while the ruling party asked the Congress not to treat them as a "badge of honour". The Congress demanded that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and other BJP leaders apologise to the nation for their alleged "propaganda and lies."
Manmohan Singh said the court judgment needs to be respected as it has "pronounced that the massive propaganda" unleashed against his government without any foundation. "Will all those people, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Arun Jaitley and other BJP leaders, who for years made false propaganda and lies their stepping stone to come to power apologise to the country?" asked Congress communications in-charge Randeep Surjewala. "Today is the day for fixing accountability and responsibility."
Congress leader M Veerappa Moily said Rai should tender an apology to the country, resign from all posts he is holding and return all the awards, Trinamool Congress leader Saugata Roy sought that the former CAG chief should be probed on the issue.
The former CAG's report, published in 2010, was largely the basis of the scandal and the probe. It pinned the estimated loss to exchequer at 1.76 lakh crore. However, Rai has since been accused of giving an inflated account of the numbers. In CBI’s March 2011 charge sheet, the total loss was pegged at Rs 30,000 crore even though the agency's then director AP Singh claimed that the agency had not calculated the total loss. In 2009, the CVC had put the number at Rs 22,000 crore. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India on the other hand, claimed that it was impossible to calculate the total loss to the exchequer as the auction was done on first come first serve basis.
The court too, dealt a body blow to the CAG's and CBI's estimation of huge loss in grant of 2G licences. Judge Saini in his 1,552-page verdict in the main CBI case held that some people "artfully" arranged few selected facts and created a scam "when there was none".
The DMK, meanwhile, also questioned the media coverage. "I humbly request the media persons present here spread the message of DMK's innocence to the general public with the same eagerness they showed in talking about the scam and piling on the blame," party's working president MK Stalin said.
Earlier, the Supreme Court took cognisance of the 2G scam, which is why it cancelled the allocation of 2nd generation waves (122 licenses) in February 2013 and asked the government to start the process anew.
By doing so the court agreed with the CAG as far as the loss is concerned, although it differed with the quantum of notional loss, as explained this Firstpost article. This was followed by a fresh auction process which brought revenue to the exchequer. The CBI court verdict doesn’t vindicate the stance of the former UPA-government stance, the article argues. It's verdict simply acquits the key accused in the criminal aspect of the case which was taking bribes, transfer of monies. Here, the investigation agencies have been unable to prove the money trail. Thus the accused were allowed to go scot-free, the article concludes.
The special court acquitted 19 accused, including former telecom minister A Raja and DMK leader Kanimozhi in the ED's case. Besides Raja and Kanimozhi, the special judge also acquitted Shahid Balwa, Vinod Goenka, Asif Balwa, Rajiv Aggarwal, Karim Morani, P Amirtham and Sharad Kumar.
In its charge sheet, the ED had also named DMK supremo M Karunanidhi's wife Dayalu Ammal as an accused in the case. In its final report, the ED had named 10 individuals and nine companies as accused and listed them in the charge sheet for the offences under the PMLA.
With inputs from agencies
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Updated Date: Dec 21, 2017 21:07:26 IST