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Letting off the hook

Letting off the hook
The ascendant rate of closure reports which are being filed by the Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) may need introspection. Reason primordially cited by the central investigating agency is lack of evidence but one can’t ignore the fact that it is the agency’s responsibility to gather the same.  
From Vincent George’s disproportionate assets investigations to Denel arms deal probe, the agency, in the recent past, has closed cases concomitant to influential suspects. A few others are on the verge of being scrapped due to no response from foreign countries despite innumerable letter rogatories. Some would argue that, may be, citing such reasons are gullible ways to deny the onus.

Perhaps, Supreme Court’s ‘caged parrot’ remark does hold some ground.
Former CBI director Joginder Singh told Millennium-Post, ‘Inability to receive any response from foreign countries is certainly a roadblock. But what can you do? In fact, the politicians of our country are not interested in resolving such issues because they don’t want to resolve corruption.’
Explaining the process, Singh added that ‘The letters rogatories are sent once in two years as a standard practise due to which so much time is wasted.’ There have been important recentcases which were closed or are about-to-be-closed:

Vincent George disproportionate assets case
During Janta Dal’s government at the centre the Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) had registered a case of disproportionate assets against Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s aide and former personal secretary Vincent George. It was closed in July 2013 and the agency said that it could not get enough evidence. ‘The agency’s judicial requests seeking evidence from the United States remained unanswered for nearly 10 years, prompting the agency to close the case citing lack of sufficient evidence to pursue the case,’ CBI sources had said. George had allegedly amassed a huge wealth after 1990 which included commercial and residential properties in the posh south Delhi area, properties in Bangalore, Chennai, Kerala and agriculture land bordering Delhi besides cash over Rs 1.5 crore in bank accounts. George had allegedly purchased assets using cash received from abroad which he claimed to be gifts from his family members. These transactions were suspected to be hawala in nature.

Aircel-Maxis case
Making headlines soon after the infamous 2G scam the CBI had filed an FIR in October 2011 against former telecom minister Dayanidhi Maran. Maran is alleged to have stalled issue of licence to Aircel promoter C Sivasankaran forcing him to sell his 74 per cent stake to the Malaysia-based Maxis group. His brother Kalanithi Maran’s company, Sun Direct, allegedly got a quid pro quo investment of Rs 500 crore in return from a holding company of Maxis.
CBI is now saying that they got no useful information from Malaysia in the Aircel-Maxis case. In July 2013, the Apex Court had asked the CBI to bring the case to a ‘logical conclusion’ observing that the probe had been going on for over a year. ‘The reply that we have received from Malaysia last month regarding our letters rogatory (LR) is not useful ...in fact, Malaysia has not replied to the most important queries we had raised in the LR. We have again written to Malaysia in this regard. In the present scenario, a charge-sheet looks difficult in this case and we may have to close it. A final decision will come in approximately two months,’ a CBI official had said.

Denel case
Even as the future of the chopper scam, involving former Air chief marshal SP Tyagi is ambiguous, there has seldom been a case pertaining to defence deals which has seen conviction due to involvement of foreign countries in these scams. Eight-year-old Denel kickbacks scandal is set to see the similar fate. The case against Denel is based on an allegation of 12.75 per cent commission paid to UK-based Varas Associates for the supply of bunker buster anti-material rifles, and was registered by the CBI in 2005. Prior to that, the ministry of defence had blacklisted Denel for arms contracts. An amount of Rs 20 crore was allegedly paid by the company for obtaining confidential MoD documents before securing the contract for 1,200 rifles during the NDA regime. The reason cited by the agency is a facsimile as a senior official said, ‘Despite several letters rogatory being sent to foreign countries there has been no response and there is little hard evidence of the alleged kickbacks trail.’

Quattrocchi Bofors Case
India’s infamous Bofors case was finally closed in July 2013 with the death of its prime accused Ottavio Quattrocchi. Quattrocchi left India in 1993 and was subsequently declared a fugitive with a Red Corner Notice against him. CBI’s failure was evident in this case as they failed in two attempts to extradite him — once from Malaysia in 2003 and then from Argentina in 2007. The failures — once each under an NDA and a UPA government — were subjects of huge political controversy. Former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi’s name was often linked to this case.

Mulayam Singh Yadav disproportionate assets case
In early August there were several reports stating that the disproportionate assets case against Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav is set to close. However, the CBI chief later stressed that no decision had been taken either way. ‘I have not given my final opinion yet because the file has not reached me,’ he had said. But if CBI sources are to be believed there is not much left in the case and there is unanimity among probe officials that a closure be filed soon. The case against the Mulayam family couldn’t be substantiated as Supreme Court had ruled in December last year that his daughter-in-law Dimple Yadav’s name could not be included. This is because the maximum increase in assets, both movable and immovable pertained to Dimple. Opposition parties led by the BJP had suggested that the CBI closure report would be a sign that a deal has been struck with the SP over passage of Food Security Bill. The CBI, in fact, is yet to question either Mulayam or his family members.

Joginder Singh stressed that ‘there is a need of change of practices’. But how ready is the Indian political class to initiate such change? The absence of intent has been reinforced with one case after another surfacing on regular basis. Any time-line as to when the primary investigating agency of India would raise above the diktats of their ‘political masters’ is obscure.
Mohit Sharma

Mohit Sharma

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