A special CBI court in Bengaluru has acquitted former Karnataka chief minister and state BJP president B S Yeddyurappa and 12 others on charges of corruption, criminal conspiracy, cheating and forgery, in connection with a corruption case where Yeddyurappa’s family and a family trust received Rs 40 crore from affiliates of the steel company, JSW Steel, during Yeddyurappa’s tenure as BJP’s first chief minister in Karnataka between 2008-2011.
The decision of the CBI court has cleared the path for Yeddyurappa to fully assert his claim as the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate for the 2018 state assembly polls. The BJP national leadership has already declared the Lingayat leader as its 2018 chief minister candidate.
The CBI case is one of the last pending corruption cases against the former chief minister who was arrested in 2010 by the Lokayukta police in Karnataka in connection with a mining related corruption case. Yeddyurappa spent 23 days in jail at the time. He was forced to resign as chief minister in 2010 after a Lokayukta report on illegal mining named him as one of the guilty parties.
The Lokayukta cases were subsequently quashed by the higher courts on various grounds, including the fact that sanctions granted for Yeddyurappa’s prosecution were not in order.
The CBI case was registered against Yeddyurappa and others at the instance of the Supreme Court following a plea filed by an NGO the Samaj Parivartan Samudaya against widespread illegal mining activities in Karnataka in the 2008-2010 period. The CBI’s case was considered to be strong.
On the surface of it the CBI court has ignored the obvious conflict of interest that was involved in the receipt of Rs 20 crore by the Prerana Educational Trust run by Yeddyurappa’s sons B Y Raghavendra and B Y Vijayendra from JSW Steel affiliates and an additional Rs 20 crore in the individual bank accounts of the sons and a son-in-law in 2010 when Yeddyurappa was the chief minister. Conflict of interest is not a crime in the Indian legal context.
The charges that the CBI brought against Yeddyurappa and others, including senior officials of JSW Steel, with substantial documentary evidence, was that Yeddyurappa misused his position as CM for personal profit by taking administrative decisions favouring the steel firm.
Yeddyurappa was alleged to have imposed a ban on export of iron ore, waived recoveries to the tune of Rs 877 crore from a JSW joint venture with a government firm, and reduced the cost of iron ore sourced from a government owned mine to favour JSW Steel.
In return, the CBI alleged, that a trust run by Yeddyurappa’s family received donations to the tune of Rs 20 crore from JSW Steel affiliates. Out of this amount Rs 6 crore was transferred to a trust where Yeddyurappa himself was a trustee.
The CBI also alleged that Yeddyurappa’s family received an additional Rs 20 crore from JSW Steel affiliates by selling a one-acre piece of land in Bengaluru, valued at Rs 5.22 crore for an inflated price of Rs 20 crore. The land itself was obtained at a throwaway price by Yeddyurappa’s sons after it was illegally released from government control at the instance of the chief minister, the CBI had alleged.
Though Yeddyurappa and others did not deny the receipt of Rs 20 crore from JSW Steel affiliates during Yeddyurappa’s tenure as chief minister, they argued that the funds transferred to the Prerana Educational Trust was a pure donation and that no favors were granted in return. Any decision taken by Yeddyurappa as chief minister was a collective decision of his government, it was argued.
Decisions like the ban on export of iron ore in July 2010, the reduction of premium on government supplies of iron ore were administrative decisions taken in the context of the prevailing situation in the state at the time and not intended to favour anyone, Yeddyurappa’s lawyers argued.
The alleged government land acquired by his sons and sold for Rs 20 crore had already been notified for release by previous governments in Karnataka, it was argued. The price of Rs 20 crore was the going rate in the region in 2010 and the Rs 5.2 crore claimed by the CBI was only a guidance value, Yeddyurappa’s advocates argued.
The last word on the matter may, however, be still pending since the Samaj Parivartana Samudaya has indicated that it will file an appeal against the CBI court order.