Updated: May 28, 2022 8:15:43 am
Observing that a “strong message” needs to be sent to “potential offenders who acquire assets by abusing their official positions”, a Delhi court Friday sentenced former Haryana Chief Minister Om Prakash Chautala to four years rigorous imprisonment after he was found guilty in a disproportionate assets case.
Taking note of the “galloping rise in cases where misuse of official positions” by public servants, Special Judge Vikas Dhull said the sentence awarded to Chautala was “just and reasonable to meet the ends of justice”.
The court also imposed a fine of Rs 50 lakh and seized four properties belonging to the 87-year-old Chautala — two in Delhi and one each in Gurgaon and Panchkula — observing that if potential offenders acquire assets abusing their official positions, “then not only will they be punished heavily but even their properties so acquired shall be liable for confiscation.” Of the Rs 50 lakh, the court ordered Rs 5 lakh be given to CBI for expenses incurred in prosecuting this case.
The court added that the period that Chautala has undergone in custody in the present case will be set aside.
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Chautala who was present in the courtroom was brought in his wheelchair. His lawyers had asked the court to pass a lenient sentence citing Indian National Lok Dal chief’s ailing health, old-age, physical-disability and the sentence that he served at Tihar jail — where he had also completed his Class 10 and Class 12 education — after being convicted in the JBT teachers recruitment scam. His counsel Harsh Kumar Sharma had contended that Chautala was 90 per cent physically disabled, was suffering from infection in his lungs, could not even change clothes on his own, and needs an attendant to even move around.
The court, however, said that no medical document was brought on record to show that his incarceration would lead to further deterioration of health.
His lawyers had pointed the court’s attention to the fact that 12 years had elapsed in this trial, but the judge noted that this was largely due to the large number of witnesses, filing of miscellaneous applications and the pandemic situation. It denied that the delay in trial was solely on account of the prosecution.
Considering these factors, the court said that on balancing aggravated and mitigating factors, it is apparent that aggravating factors far outweighs the mitigating factors and, therefore, convict deserves to be dealt with strictly while sentencing him.
The CBI prosecutor had asked the court to show no leniency to Chautala “being a political leader and an elected representative, had belied the trust of the voters of his constituency by abusing his official position to generate assets for himself.” CBI counsel Ajay Gupta had said that any leniency while awarding punishment to Chautala, who remained a chief minister, shall send a “wrong message”.
“If lawmakers commit crimes, what message shall we send to the public…People look up to you [Chautala]. Your [Chautala’s] decisions are followed. If you commit such crimes, what lessons will people learn from you,” the CBI counsel had argued.
Later, 87-year-old Chautala was taken into custody. His son and Ellenabad MLA Abhay Chautala said, “We will be filing an appeal against the verdict in a higher court”.
The court had last week convicted Chautala after he failed to satisfactorily account for the assets detected by the CBI between 1993 and 2006 that were disproportionate to his legitimate sources of income.
In its judgement convicting Chautala, the court had noted that the maxim of “power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely” applies to the case.
The CBI had filed the case in 2005, and a charge sheet was filed on March 26, 2010, accusing him of amassing assets disproportionate to his legitimate income, between 1993 and 2006. According to the FIR, Chautala, while functioning as CM of Haryana during the period from July 24, 1999, to March 5, 2005, in collusion with his family members and others, accumulated assets, immovable and movable, disproportionate to his known lawful sources of income, in his name, in the names of his family members. The disproportionate assets were calculated to be Rs 6.09 crore, 189.11 per cent of his known sources of income.
The family members of the seven-time MLA had slammed the case as “political vendetta”.
In 2019, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) attached Chautala’s assets worth Rs 3.68 crore, including his apartment and plots in New Delhi, Panchkula and Sirsa, under provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).
This is Chautala’s second conviction after he was pronounced guilty by the Supreme Court in 2013 in the JBT teachers’ recruitment scam and sentenced to seven years’ jail on corruption charges and 10 years on charges of criminal conspiracy. Chautala was released from Tihar jail on July 2 last year after completing his sentence in the case. Since his release, Chautala had been politically active and had started touring the rural areas of Haryana in a bid to revive the INLD.
Trouble mounts for sons Abhay and Ajay, too
Chautala’s sons, Ajay Chautala who is national convener of the Jannayak Janta Party (JJP), and Abhay Chautala, who is INLD Secretary general and the lone party MLA in Haryana Vidhan Sabha, too, are facing trial in separate cases of disproportionate assets filed by the CBI against them.
The case trials against both Abhay and Ajay are still at the stage of evidence. In Abhay’s case, the next date of hearing is May 28 while Ajay’s case will be heard on May 30.
According to CBI FIR, Abhay is accused of amassing Rs 22.89 crore in disproportionate assets — five per cent more than his known sources of income — between 2000 and 2005.
Ajay is accused of amassing Rs 8.17 crore in disproportionate assets — 339.27 per cent more than his known sources of income — between 1993 and 2006.
Ajay, who too was convicted in the JBT teachers’ recruitment scam, recently completed his 10-year sentence and is currently busy handling JJP affairs ahead of the upcoming municipal body polls in Haryana.
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