A local court in Bhuj refused to extend police custody of suspended IAS officer Pradeep Sharma in connection with a corruption case on Saturday saying that sufficient time had been given to Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), which is investigating the matter. Meanwhile, the court deferred the hearing of Sharma’s bail plea till Tuesday.
Sharma was arrested by the ACB on Tuesday and a court in Bhuj had sent him to five-day police custody. As his police remand expired on Saturday, the ACB moved the court and sought extension of his custody. The prosecutor submitted that the probe agency required Sharma’s further custody to verify signature of his wife Shyamal and also wanted to conduct searches at the residence of the officer’s mother.
The ACB had arrested Sharma under Prevention of Corruption Act alleging the officer allotted land to Welspun Gujarat Stahl Rohren Limited in Anjar taluka of Kutch below market rate in 2004 when he was collector of Kutch district.
The ACB further claimed that Welspun returned favour to Sharma by making his wife Shyamal a 30-per cent partner in Value Packaging, another company which had long-term contract of supplying packaging material to Welspun. Value Packaging extended financial benefits worth Rs 29.5 lakh to Shaymal who in turn transferred some of the money to Sharma from her bank account in Rajkot. The ACB suspected the veracity of documents provided to open the bank account since Shyamal lives in the US and sought further remand of Sharma on this ground.
However, Sharma’s lawyer Ratnakar Dholakia raised objection saying material related to the case was already in possession of Criminal Investigation Department (Crime) which was investigating another case filed against the IAS officer.
“The alleged offence in the present case was investigated by the CID (Crime) in an FIR lodged in 2011. We only requested and prayed to the court that second FIR is not maintainable. However, we don’t want to stall the entire process of investigation at this stage, but drew attention of the court that certain material relating to the case was already in possession of CID (Crime) and which was also submitted with the court at relevant time,” Dholakia told The Indian Express.
Sharma’s alleged connection with Welspun had come to light when he was allegedly caught by the CID (Crime) using a mobile phone purchased by the company and the firm had also paid Sharma’s bill for mobile services. This had happened while the officer was being investigated in another corruption case in 2011.
After hearing the arguments, Dholakia said that the court of additional sessions judge J B Dhandhal observed that sufficient time had been provided to the ACB and there was no ground to extend police custody of Sharma.
Incidentally, Sharma was one of the subjects of an alleged illegal surveillance mounted by Gujarat Police on a woman architect in 2009 on the instructions of then Minister of State for Home Amit Shah.