Kerala HC exonerates CM Pinarayi Vijayan in SNC Lavalin case
Kochi: In major relief to Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, the state High Court on Wednesday exonerated him in the SNC Lavalin case, relating to an agreement inked 20 years ago with Canadian company SNC-Lavalin when he was the state Power Minister.
The CBI is planning to appeal against the single bench verdict.
After the verdict, a beaming Vijayan told the media that it's a happy moment for him and truth will always triumph.
Vijayan also said he feels sad as his long-time counsel M.K. Damodaran passed away recently.
"In this long journey of fighting this case, the truth has triumphed all the time...Today even the High Court said that this was a political witch-hunt. Now that I am cleared, this is going to give me renewed vigour to take the state forward in all aspects of development," added Vijayan.
Delivering the judgement, Justice P. Ubaid said it was not fair that only Vijayan was being singled out though some other ministers had also handled the power portfolio.
While exonerating Vijayan, the court pointed out that three Kerala State Electricity Board officials will have to face trial.
The case pertains to an agreement with SNC-Lavalin in 1997 to refurbish three hydropower projects, which allegedly caused a loss of Rs 266 crore to the state exchequer.
Vijayan was the Electricity Minister in the E.K. Nayanar government when the government-run Kerala State Electricity Board contracted SNC Lavalin to refurbish three hydropower projects in Panniyar, Chenkulam and Pannivasal, following a severe electricity shortage in Kerala.
Vijayan was arraigned by the CBI as the seventh accused in the case, leading to political furore.
On November 5, 2013, the CBI court in the state capital exonerated all the accused, without taking the case for trial.
However a year later, the CBI filed a revision petition against the CBI court's exoneration.
The case then went into a limbo with a few judges deciding not to hear the case. But in 2016, the trial started and Vijayan brought in high-profile lawyer Harish Salve to defend him.
Vijayan was forced to seek the service of Salve after the CBI brought in former Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) Vinod Rai as a witness in the case.
The trial in the case got over in March this year and Ubaid posted the case for delivering the judgement.
In the judgement, the CBI has been taken to task for hounding Vijayan as there were other ministers also who had dealt with SNC Lavalin company.
Reacting to the judgement, State CPI-M secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said the case was a political one.
"In 2006, it was the then Congress-led UDF government which transferred the case to the CBI. This decision was taken after the State Vigilance department gave a clean chit to Vijayan. The CBI was used as a tool to target political rivals after the CPI-M withdrew its support to the first UPA government."
He termed the judgement as a "huge setback for the CBI as it tried to target a political leader". Balakrishnan said that it has been proved again that CPI-M is a party which does not indulge in corruption.
However, Leader of opposition Ramesh Chennithala said the Lavalin case which was buried appears to have reopened once again through Wednesday's judgement.
"This could be an error of judgement as in the past in cases against J. Jayalalithaa and Lalu Prasad, where the lower courts exonerated them, the apex court ruling was otherwise. It remains to be seen how an international agreement like Lavalin could be entered into by a few officials of the KSEB," asked Chennithala.
State BJP president Kummanem Rajasekheran said while legally Vijayan appears to have been cleared, morally he cannot escape, as "all know that this was a corrupt deal".
"This case has to be followed up," said Rajasekheran.