Facing flak for an alleged bid to influence a witness in a corruption case as a lawyer last year, Delhi Law Minister Somnath Bharti on Tuesday rejected the charge, and deflected the blame on the judiciary for passing an “erroneous” verdict. He also dismissed opposition calls for his resignation and said, “Why should I resign? I have done nothing wrong and there is no case against me.”
Last August, the court of special CBI judge Poonam Bhamba, had rejected the bail application of Pawan Kumar, a former employee of the State Bank of Mysore, on allegations of tampering with evidence and attempting to influence a witness. At the time, Bharti was representing Kumar, and was pulled up by the court for speaking to the prosecution witness. The cases are being heard by the CBI court, and the prosecution is in the process of examining witnesses in the trial.
Bharti had submitted an audio CD of a conversation with the witness, claiming that the witness had indicated that his client was a “victim of conspiracy between CBI, the bank and other beneficiaries.”
On Tuesday, when he was asked to explain his actions, Bharti justified the ‘sting operation’ and said, “ I did not tamper with the evidence or influence witnesses. All four accused were employed at the same bank, and the witness had been working with my client who had been wrongly made an accused.”
The CBI had filed three chargesheets, relating to the fraud committed against the State Bank of Mysore, in granting credit to three private firms, which did not have the necessary letters of credit from foreign banks and were unable to make payments. The court had noted in its order that the conduct of the accused as well the the advocate (Bharti) in contacting the witness was “not only highly objectionable, unethical but also amounts to tampering of evidence”.
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But on Tuesday, Bharti told reporters that the prosecution witness was a senior official of the bank in which a fraud of Rs 116 crore had occurred, and that the conversation had revealed that the official had been given a clean chit by the CBI due to pressure from “higher-ups”.
“The CBI did not look into the money trail at all and exonerated everyone except a desk officer,” said Bharti, adding that the vigilance office of the bank had indicted several senior officials of the bank, including assistant general managers and chief managers in the case. “CBI only made my client an accused while the senior officers were let off,” he said.
“The CBI court should have taken the evidence we were bringing on record… judiciary has to do everything possible in its domain to bring justice,” Bharti said. Asked whether defence lawyers were allowed to speak to a prosecution witness outside court, he said that the conversation was aimed at “exposing the Rs 116 crore fraud in the case.”
According to Bharti, the Delhi High Court decision to uphold the CBI court order was also “incorrect”, since he had “not attempted to influence the witness but only to speak to him about the case.”
In an order on September 12, Justice Sunita Gupta had dismissed Kumar’s bail application and rejected his plea to set up a special investigation team to look into the fraud allegations. Kumar was later granted bail by the CBI court after the examination of the witness.