New Delhi, Dec 15: India's embattled Home Minister P. Chidambaram already facing the flak in the 2G scam, was found involved in another case involving withdrawal of FIRs against a hotelier, who was his former client, accused of cheating and forgery.
'The Pioneer' daily published a report alleging that the FIRs were withdrawn at the behest of the Home Ministry, but the later defended its minister Chidambaram saying that he had no role in the matter, except to say that the opinion of the Law Ministry should be forwarded to Delhi Police.
First, the entire case:
According to The Pioneer, Chidambaram's client SP Gupta, a hotelier, was also accused of misusing the names of the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Congress president Sonia Gandhi, floated a charitable trust named after Rajiv Gandhi with Sonia as its chief patron and forged letterheads of several MPs.
The main case against Gupta was defrauding VLS Finance to the tune of several crores of rupees.
The Home Ministry decided to give direction on May 9, 2011 to quash the FIRs upon the petition filed by Gupta to the Home Secretary.
Before issuing direction to the Delhi Police, the Home Ministry consulted the Law Ministry for legal opinion to provide escape route to Gupta.
However, without giving its own verdict on the matter, the Law Ministry passed the onus on the Home Ministry by stating, “The power under Section 321 of the CrPC vested in Government can be exercised in such cases in the interest of proper administration of justice and the paramount consideration in such cases is the administration of justice.”
This was enough excuse for the Home Ministry to issue direction to withdraw the FIRs even though the Ministry on Wednesday admitted that Chidambaram had himself noted on the file on May 4, 2011 that the Ministry should only convey the Law Ministry's opinion to the police.
“When the file was submitted to the Home Minister, he noted on May 4, 2011 that MHA should not give any direction and MHA may only convey the advice of the Ministry of Law,” an English news channel quoted Home Ministry's joint secretary M Gopal Reddy as saying.
Reddy was responding to questionnaire sent by the TV channel to Chidambaram to clarify his position and explain the apparent conflict of interest.
Interestingly, Reddy said Chidambaram was not sure if at all he represented Gupta.
“The Home Minister is unable to recall at this distance of time whether he appeared in a case concerning M/s Sunair Hotels Pvt Ltd at any time between 1999 and 2003,” Reddy said.
Interestingly, the Home Ministry acted on Gupta's petition even when the Delhi Police had carried a detailed investigation and field a chargesheet against him.
Legal experts feel that the withdrawal of FIR after filing of chargesheet is rare in such cases of fraud.
The revelation is damaging for Chidambaram on two counts.
First, he will find it difficult to explain why such a favour was granted in case involving an old client.
Second, the episode in not likely to please the Congress leadership especially when the man granted such a special favour had misused the names of the Gandhi family.
In its status report to the Home Ministry, the Delhi Police had said the chargesheets/supplementary chargesheets had already been filed in the courts and the cases were at various stages.
Chidambaram as an advocate represented businessman SP Gupta and argued for quashing one of the FIRs before the Delhi High Court in 2003 and Company Law Board (CLB) in 2001.
The FIRs against Chidambaram's client Gupta was filed on the complaint by VLS Finance on judicial interventions.
But when Chidambaram became Home Minister this case took an interesting turn.
The Home Ministry on May 9, 2011 directed the Delhi Police and the Delhi Government to withdraw FIRs against Gupta.
Gupta's representations to the Home Secretary alleged the FIRs against him were "based on the improper investigations by the Delhi Police" under the influence of his rival VLS Finance.
"The matter has been considered in detail carefully in MHA (Ministry of Home Affairs). As per advice tendered by the Department of Legal Affair, Ministry of Law and Justice keeping in view the facts of these cases, the Home Department of Government of NCT of Delhi should urgently scrutinise the above cited case FIR No 90/2000, FIR No 99/2002 and FIR No 148/2002 registered by the Delhi Police for taking action under Section 321 of the CrPC for withdrawal of prosecution immediately. This has approval of the Union Home Minister," directed MHA Director AK Saxena to Arvind Ray, Principal Secretary (Home) in the Delhi Government.
PTI adds: In Delhi, the Home Ministry today said Chidambaram did not have any role in the withdrawal of three FIRs against a Delhi-based hotelier, who was accused of cheating and forgery and is said to be a former client of the Minister.
Home Secretary R K Singh also claimed that the draft of a letter sent by the Home Ministry to the Delhi government for withdrawal of the FIRs had not been shown to the Home Minister or Home Secretary or the Joint Secretary concerned and it did not reflect the proper deliberations of the Home Ministry.
He suggested it could be a fault of drafting.
“The draft was not shown to the Home Minister. The file was not shown to the Home Secretary either. Even the concerned Joint secretary also said he had not seen the draft. The Home Minister had no role in withdrawal of the case,” he told reporters here.
Singh's remarks came against the backdrop of a raging controversy over the withdrawal of three FIRs against S P Gupta, who runs M/s Sunair Hotels Pvt Ltd.
The three FIRs relate to Gupta allegedly misusing the names of the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and defrauding a firm - VLS Finance - to the tune of several crores of rupees.
Reports also suggested there was a conflict of interest as Gupta was a client of Chidambaram who fought his cases in the court as a lawyer.
However, the Ministry in a statement, said: “The Home Minister is unable to recall at this distance of time whether he appeared in a case concerning M/s Sunair Hotels Pvt Ltd at any time between 1999 and 2003”.
The Home Secretary said while going through the file related to the cases against S P Gupta, the Home Minister made it clear that the Ministry of Home Affairs should not give any advice to the Delhi government but only forward the opinion of the Ministry of Law.
“The (Home) Ministry has never said that the case should be withdrawn. The Home Minister categorically wrote on the file that only the advice of the Law Ministry should be forwarded to the GNCTD (Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi) and no advice should be given from the Ministry of Home Affairs. There was no question of conflict of interest,” he said.
Singh said the file had surely gone to the Home Minister once but he had written in clear terms that the opinion of the Law Ministry should be forwarded and the petition should be forwarded to GNCTD which will take the appropriate action after scrutiny.
“There is no conflict of interest for two reasons. One the petition was filed before the Home Secretary and the Home Secretary got it examined and two, the Ministry of Law was consulted and a decision was reached that the advice of the Ministry of Law should be forwarded....
“If the letter is not reflecting the true picture, it is the fault of the drafting. I had called for the file yesterday and read it carefully...,” he said.
The Home Secretary said the issue came up before the Ministry when it received a petition from the Gupta that this was a civil matter being made out to be a criminal matter.
“S P Gupta made a representation to the PMO also that was forwarded to the MHA in the month of July,” he said.
Singh said the Company Law Board was also already looking into the matter and the Chief Public Prosecutor of Delhi government had already advised the Delhi government against registration of FIRs under the criminal sections.
“So we decided to take the opinion of the Law Ministry. The Ministry said that if no case is being made out, then the prosecution should consider withdrawal,” he said.
Coming to the defence of Chidambaram, Government today said Opposition's allegations against him over withdrawal of FIRs against a Delhi-based hotelier are “one-sided.”
“It (allegation) is one-sided,” Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Rajiv Shukla told reporters outside Parliament House.
He accused the BJP of “hiding Law Ministry opinions. Whatever has been done, it was done as per the Law Ministry directive and Home Ministry has no role.”
Blaming the Opposition for disruption, he said, “Everyday Opposition is disrupting the House on some pretext or other. It has become a ‘tamasha' (drama). If there is any issue, it can be raised during the Zero Hour. Opposition has no role in running the House they are only contributing to disruption of the House.”
Congress spokesperson Rashid Alvi, however, declined to comment on opposition's allegation against Chidambaram that he misued his office to help a former client. “It should be asked to Chidamabram,” Alvi said.