Why did Delhi police do such a shoddy job of cash-for-votes?

The Delhi police on Wednesday charge-sheeted former Samajwadi Party General Secretary Amar Singh and former aide of LK Advani Sudheendra Kulkarni in connection with the 2008 cash-for-votes scam.

The scam hit the headlines when three BJP MPs landed in parliament with bundles of currency claiming they were being bribed by Singh to vote in favour of the UPA in the trust vote. The UPA won the vote.

 Why did Delhi police do such a shoddy job of cash-for-votes?

The scam hit the headlines when three BJP MPs landed in parliament with bundles of currency. PTI

The Delhi police charge-sheet accuses Kulkarni – who claims to have been the whistle-blower in the scandal – of masterminding the whole scheme of entrapment and for failing to notify the police about the bribes that were arranged by Amar Singh.

The police charge-sheet against Kulkarni raises an interesting question: Can a politician plan and carry out a 'sting operation’ in public interest?

In the past, media groups have been conducting their own stings to expose wrongdoing. The most famous sting operation was the one conducted by Tehelka during the NDA regime, when it exposed the scandalous ways in which defence deals were struck. A Delhi-based Hindi news channel conducted another, inside court rooms to expose how low-level judicial officials took bribes to issue warrants or challans.

But has Kulkarni, a BJP ideologue and newspaper columnist, committed a crime by setting up a booby trap for those who were trying to buy MPs in July 2008, when the Congress-led UPA was desperately trying to survive a trust vote?

The Delhi police have charged Kulkarni, who knew of the planned purchase of MPs, under section 12 of the Prevention of Corruption Act which deals with abetting an offence. Under this section, a person can be sent to jail for upto five years, but not less than six months, if proven guilty.

Deliberate entrapment is something the law frowns upon. Even when mediapersons conduct sting operations, reporters and editors have been booked under section 12 if it involved paying bribes. But in many cases, the courts have taken a lenient view and exonerated the media on grounds that they had done the sting in 'public interest'. The Hindi channel which conducted a sting in the court rooms in Delhi was let off.

In short, the police do end up booking the sting operator, but the courts often take a lenient view depending on the motivations.

In the cash-for-votes case, the Delhi police, however, do not seem to have done their jobs professionally. While Kulkarni has been in their gunsights, the charge-sheet against him does not show much investigative work and seems to be based on verbal comments. The charge-sheet may have mentioned Amar Singh, but it doesn’t establish `material evidence’ on where the money came from. No finger-prints were picked up. Even the driver who drove the three BJP MPs to Amar Singh’s home has not been traced to date.

Let us look at the incident very briefly. On 22 July 2008, during the debate on the motion of confidence in the UPA government, BJP MPs Ashok Argal, Faggan Singh Kulaste and Mahaveer Bhagoda came to the well of the Lok Sabha with two bags. They took out wads of currency and started placing the same on the table of the house.

Two days before this incident, on 20 July, Amar Singh, then a Samajwadi Party leader, brought BJP MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh by his side and announced at a press conference in Delhi that he would support the government in the trust vote. He also boasted: “We have opened our first card... When we open our other cards on 22 July, many will be taken aback.”

According to CNN-IBN video footage available with the Delhi police, Rewati Raman Singh, Samajwadi Party MP, is shown meeting BJP MPs at the residence of Ashok Argal around midnight on 21 July. Rewati Raman Singh insisted on a face-to-face meeting with Amar Singh, though he doesn’t utter the name Amar Singh. Subsequently, BJP leaders met Amar Singh at the latter’s residence.

The video footage shows these MPs going inside his house, but there is no video recording of what happened inside.

According to the BJP MPs, Amar Singh offered Rs 3 crore each for abstaining from voting on 22 July. He also promised to send the first installment of cash to their house within 15 minutes. The BJP MPs allege that Amar Singh made them speak to Ahmed Patel over the phone and Patel gave them the go-ahead. This was not on camera.

Screengrab/ibnlive

Thereafter, the video footage shows that Amar Singh’s aide Sanjeev Saxena came with Rs 1 crore to a BJP MP’s house and he made each of them speak with Amar Singh over the phone. Saxena and one more person accompanying him had carried the money in a bag and emptied the amount of Rs 1 crore in 10 bundles of Rs 10 lakh each, most of it in Rs 1,000 denomination.

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Following the expose, a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe led by KP Singh Deo was set up to investigate the matter. The Delhi police filed an FIR in January 2009 after receiving the JPC report through the home ministry. The FIR then named only three persons – Sudheendra Kulkarni, Sanjeev Saxena and Suhail Hindustani, a gem trader, who was actively involved in the sting operation. The case was filed under section 120 B of the Indian Penal Code (conspiracy) and section 12 of the Prevention of Corruption Act (abetment of offence).

Sources in the Delhi police say the FIR was filed on the recommendations of the JPC and the scope of investigation was restricted to finding their roles in the entire cash-for-votes scam. This means Amar Singh, Rewati Raman Singh and Ahmed Patel, the main alleged kingpins of the scam, went outside the purview of the investigations.

Sanjeev Saxena, a close aide of former Samwajwadi Party leader Amar Singh. PTI

It is clear that the Delhi police, under Additional Commissioner of Police Satyender Garg, did not make much progress. They showed no urgency to investigate the matter, as is evident from the entries made in the police investigation diary. “There was too much political pressure on us and we put investigations on hold in this case”, a senior Delhi police official told Firstpost, requesting anonymity.

About eight or nine months later, when Satyender Garg was transferred, the Delhi police sent video tapes submitted by CNN-IBN for forensic checks. The Central Forensic Sciences Laboratory (CFSL) report came in January 2011 and confirmed the genuineness of the tapes. The DCP (Crime) Ashok Chand had then said that he would shortly complete the investigations in the case.

The police, however, made minimal progress till August 2011, when the Supreme Court slammed them for their “half-hearted and hopeless’’ probe. Before August 2011, the Delhi police had only examined Sudheendra Kulkarni, Sanjeev Saxena and Suhail Hindustani. The police had also spoken to CNN-IBN journalists on two occasions and had taken their statements.

The Delhi police had not bothered to examine or question Amar Singh, Rewati Raman Singh and Ahmed Patel till then. The police did not even pursue the money trail on the ground that it was too late to find out who supplied the money. No finger-prints were picked up when the cash was handed over to the Delhi police as case property.

In a preliminary report, the police concluded that no politicians were involved in the scam. And this despite the fact that the JPC proceedings had established beyond doubt that Sanjeev Saxena, who carried the money to the BJP MPs, was on the payroll of Amar Singh.

In a letter to the principal of Dayal Singh College, Amar Singh had sought his help for admitting Samarth Saxena, “son of my secretary Sanjeev Saxena.’’ Sanjeev Saxena had also given Amar Singh’s residence as his office address. In this admission letter, he had also given the official telephone number of Amar Singh as his office number.

The video footage shows Sanjeev Saxena making repeated calls to Amar Singh from his mobile and asking the BJP MPs to speak with Amar Singh while delivering the bribe money.

Hashmat Ali, the driver who had driven these BJP MPs to Amar Singh's house, is missing.  The BJP MPs had gone to his house in a car with tinted windows and the CNN-IBN footage shows them sitting in the car. But when the car starts on its way to Amar Singh's house, the footage doesn't capture the people sitting inside. Thus Hashmat Ali's statement is very important. The police have reportedly not recorded his statement.

The Delhi police clearly haven’t covered themselves with glory by shrugging off the most crucial parts of the investigation – tracking the source of money and finding Hashmat Ali. Instead, they have opted to take the easiest way out by making a strong case against Sudheendra Kulkarni and the BJP MPs on the basis of their `own’ evidence.

A Tehelka story on the subject some months ago says it was a BJP sting operation, and the Samajwadi MP voluntarily fell into its trap. But the Congress covered it all up.

Perhaps that explains why the police have done such a shoddy job of the investigation.

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Updated Date: Aug 25, 2011 19:27:23 IST