A special CBI court in Bengaluru Wednesday acquitted BJP’s Karnataka president B S Yeddyurappa of charges of corruption, cheating, criminal conspiracy and forgery in an alleged Rs 40-crore mining related case pertaining to the 2008-2011 period when he was the state’s chief minister. Yeddyurappa, his two sons B Y Raghavendra and B Y Vijayendra, his son-in-law R N Sohan Kumar, and nine others — including top officials of private steel manufacturer JSW Steel — were acquitted of all charges in the case by principal CBI judge R B Dharmagoudar.
“Accused numbers one to 13 are acquitted for the offences punishable under sections 120B read with section 420, 409, 408, 471 of the Indian Penal Code and under section 7, 9, 11,12,13 read with 13 (1) (d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act 1988 and section 9 read with section 4 of Karnataka Land (Restriction on Transfer) Act 1991. The bail bond of all the accused stands cancelled,’’ the court said in the operative portion of the 412-page acquittal order.
Following the verdict, Yeddyurappa posted on Twitter: “Satyameva Jayathe. Justice is done. I stand vindicated.” Expressing relief at the verdict, he said, “I am happy that false allegations and politically motivated charges have been dismissed. I have suffered a lot over the last five years.”
He said that the verdict would provide a boost to his efforts to bring the BJP back to power in Karnataka in the 2018 state polls. The CBI had filed a chargesheet in the case on October 16, 2012, naming Yeddyurappa and the 12 others, and claiming that it had found evidence of payment of Rs 40 crore by affiliates of JSW Steel to the personal bank accounts of the BJP leader’s family members and a family trust.
The CBI had charged that the payments were made to Yeddyurappa’s family as quid pro quo for mining-related favours granted to the firm by the then state government, including waiver of dues, supply of iron ore at concessional rates and for imposing a ban on exports of iron ore.
The CBI had charged that the personal bank accounts of Yeddyurappa’s sons B Y Raghavendra — now a BJP MLA in Karnataka — and B Y Vijayendra, and a son-in-law Sohan Kumar received Rs 20 crore between August and September 2010 from a JSW Steel-affiliate South West Mining Company.
The CBI had claimed in its chargesheet that an additional sum of Rs 20 crore was donated by JSW Steel affiliates to the Prerana Educational and Social Trust run by Yeddyurappa’s sons. As much as Rs six crore received by the Prerana Trust was subsequently transferred to the Swamy Vivekananda Vidya Samsthe where Yeddyurappa was a trustee, the CBI alleged in its chargesheet.
Yeddyurappa and his sons were also accused of illegally selling one acre of government land near Bengaluru to JSW Steel affiliates at a cost of Rs 20 crore allegedly as part of an effort to cover up the receipt of bribes from the firm. The market value of the property at the time was estimated at Rs 5.22 crore. Yeddyurappa’s son illegally acquired the land by misusing Yeddyurappa’s position as chief minister, the CBI had alleged.
Lawyers defending Yeddyurappa and the others had during the trial argued that the Rs 20 crore donation to the trust from JSW Steel affiliates were part of the company’s corporate social responsibility initiatives. They argued that the trustees were barred from using the fund for any other purpose other than charitable goals. The lawyers argued that money was received through cheques by the trust and not through illegal means.
On alleged illegal sale of land, the lawyers argued that the property had already been denotified from government custody in 2004 and that there were no objections from the state to the sale.
Although the CBI alleged that a forged no-objection certificate was presented to facilitate the transaction, the investigating agency did not provide proof to substantiate the claim, the lawyers argued.
The defendants further argued that land in the vicinity of the property sold by Yeddyurappa’s family had been sold for prices in the range of Rs 18 crore to Rs 28 crore per acre and that the Rs 5.22 crore estimate made by the CBI was based on government guidance value and not market value.
On allegations of the government granting favours to the private steel firm in return for kickbacks, the defence lawyers argued that no favours were granted and that decisions were made by the government as a collective.
“The Karnataka high court has in judgments stated that the mining-related decisions taken by Yeddyurappa was in the interest of the state and hence the question of quid pro quo does not arise,’’ said one of Yeddyurappa’s advocates.
“Since all the charges against all the accused has been dropped, it is assumed that the court has accepted all our arguments,’’ said Sandeep Patil, one of Yeddyurappa’s defence counsels.
The case originated in a 2011 report of the Karnataka Lokayukta, which stated that Yeddyurappa’s family had received kickbacks from JSW Steel for alleged mining related favours.
The report had forced Yeddyurappa to resign from the post of chief minister. He was later arrested by Lokayukta police and released on bail after he spent 23 days in prison. The case was, however, quashed by the Karnataka high court. It was subsequently taken to Supreme Court by Samaja Parivartana Samudaya, am NGO. The Supreme Court directed the CBI to investigate the matter.