‘Attorney-general has a lot to explain’
Sorabjee refutes charges
Cong cry for Atal statement
Red-faced govt waits for dust to settle
Taxmen raid Sangeeta house
Match-fix tapes in tit-for-tat tussle

 
 
‘ATTORNEY-GENERAL HAS A LOT TO EXPLAIN’ 
 
 
 
New Delhi, July 27 
The following are excerpts from the statement (prepared for Parliament) issued by Ram Jethmalani.

I resigned without murmur because what the attorney-general, Mr (Soli) Sorabjee, did or did not do during the hearing of the Justice Srikrishna case was the culmination of a series of incidents which tell their own tale and give to the last act of Mr Sorabjee the effect of the last straw on the camel’s back. I must first draw attention to an incident that happened early this year.

A scurrilous attack was mounted by Mr Soli Sorabjee on the law ministry in a letter he addressed to my law secretary. Contemporaneously, the letter got leaked to the press. Correspondence ensued and consists of:

i) AG’s letter to law secretary dated 10.2.2000.

ii) My letter dated 15.2. 2000.

iii) AG’s letter dated 16.2.2000.

iv) My letter of the same day.

Hinduja link & phone fee

The people of India and honourable members of both Houses are doubtless anxious about the progress of the Bofors investigation. I know the Hindujas. It is true that at one time out of sheer disgust, I had written to the then Prime Minister Shri Narasimha Rao that instead of corrupting witnesses, police officers, judges and polluting the whole judicial process in the country, it is better to pardon the accused — known and unknown — if some of the suspects are willing to make ex gratia payment of 10 times the amount said to have been disbursed as bribe. I am still of that view. To the best of my knowledge no serious investigation is taking place even now. But our principal law officer, the attorney-general of India, in a matter concerning the government of India and its financial interests and presumably for his usual fee had given a legal opinion to the Hindujas.

The attorney-general has a lot to explain how he decided to give this opinion to a party who has serious conflict of interest with the Union of India which he represents.

Huge bills for fees in the telecom matter (dispute between the government and private cellular operators over licence fees) came from the attorney-general which ran into lakhs. This was on the basis that the matter was complicated. Surely, the attorney-general is expected to deal with complicated matters without charging fees. My ministry raised objection that these fees are not permissible under the rules. I was asked to amend the rules and I had put up a note on the file that the rules be amended.

A shocking illustration of the attorney-general’s pliancy, to which I referred in my press statement the other day, is provided by the notifications which were issued in the pending case against Dr Jayalalitha. Notifications were issued on his advice transferring the cases from the normal courts to other courts more congenial to Dr Jayalalitha. I tendered my resignation. Ultimately, these notifications were declared ultra vires by the Supreme Court. It is, therefore, not difficult for honourable members to see that my being law minister is certainly not congenial to the attorney-general.

What went wrong with chief justice

The first problem arose only recently over the appointment of the chairman of (the) MRTP Commission. I looked into the relevant Act and the rules and enquired about the existing practice. I was told that no consultation with the honourable chief justice was either essential or even required.

Rules framed under the Act required the new incumbent to be sworn to the office by the Chief Justice of India, for which a request was sent on June 12, 2000. The chief justice wrote a letter on June 14, 2000 to my honourable Prime Minister complaining that he had not been consulted.

The chief justice thinks that I am impertinent. Yes, I do not easily surrender the privilege of the executive merely to keep a chief justice happy and contented. If that is impertinence, so be it.

I would only request honourable members of this House to read my last two letters (not released) to the chief justice which have angered the chief justice. Both are dated July 20, 2000, only one day, in fact, a few hours, before the fateful hearing which took place in the Supreme Court on Friday the 21st July, 2000. The observations of the chief justice in open court, which I protested, must be seen in the background of this unfortunate conflict. The mood of the honourable chief justice on the 21st July, 2000, is well contained in his two replies (contents not released), both dated July 21, 2000, to my two letters of the previous day. Throughout this controversy, the honourable Prime minister had not either told me to surrender to the will of the chief justice nor had he disapproved of the stand taken by me.

The land deal

A magazine called Kalchakra published a startling and somewhat partially documented story of a huge fraud on the public exchequer. This story, if true, showed how the subordinate judiciary had decreed, in favour of Dr (chief justice) Anand’s wife and mother-in-law, a suit which had been barred by limitation for two decades. I did not know of this attack on Dr Anand’s family and of course inferentially on Dr Anand himself.

One of my Cabinet colleagues, whom I do not wish to name, informed me that Dr Anand was very upset with me and, in fact, moves were on to drop me from the Cabinet. I have no evidence to prove that Dr Anand instigated these political moves. I called on him at his residence. I had a heart-to-heart talk with him. He admitted to me that he believed that I had encouraged this publication. I told him that the Kalchakra publisher has made allegations against me and there has been a serious fight by correspondence between me and him and I have neither met the man nor cared to meet him. At the end of our meeting, Dr Anand assured me that he no longer entertains that grievance but he refused to tell me who had put this idea in his mind.

I made my own queries thereafter and came to know that this matter had come to the notice of the Committee on Judicial Accountability, of which I was, once upon a time, an active member and from which I resigned after I became minister. The documents in possession of this committee did not provide conclusive proof of Dr Anand’s personal complicity in the highly questionable action of his family, the Madhya Pradesh government and the hapless subordinate judiciary. The facts, however, were questionable. I did what I could to persuade the committee not to rake up this matter.

I was compelled to deal with this matter only a few days before my resignation.

On my return July 8, 2000, I asked my officials to trace out this document (petition seeking the chief justice’s prosecution) and place it before me. On July 17, it was placed before me and was contained in an earlier file seeking sanction for prosecution in a case of a few years back, perhaps 1996, which I do not wish to dwell upon now.

This also led to placing of another file containing a reference from the office of the honourable the President of India forwarding a representation on the subject covered by Kalchakra. I was duty-bound to deal with it.

On the morning of the 17th of July, I called up Dr Anand and told him that the President’s Office had invited my attention to that old Kalchakra story and I wanted to put on record what he had told me earlier orally. I informed him that I had forgotten the details of the facts and would he be good enough to send me a typed sheet containing his version of the facts. Dr Anand told me that he will dictate it and see that the note reached me within a couple of days.

The final verdict

The propriety of the chief justice in making the observations which he did on 21st July, 2000, is questionable. The case before the court was about the non-implementation of Srikrishna report. I had made no comments on that report or its implementation. When I came to know what observations had been made I did not believe that the court was not apprised, as it should have been, by the attorney-general that my observation had nothing to do with the issue before the court.

Had the attorney-general done his duty the chief justice would not have himself delivered the observation that my government was not a “civilised government” and that “the notion of collective Cabinet responsibility seemed to be totally missing.”

I believe that even the honourable Prime Minister may share my perception that his action to relieve me of my office was based on a carefully-orchestrated campaign unleashed against me.    


 
 
SORABJEE REFUTES CHARGES 
 
 
FROM R. VENKATARAMAN
 
New Delhi, July 27 
Attorney-general Soli J. Sorabjee refuted the charges hurled at him by former law minister Ram Jethmalani.

Sorabjee said the advice he had given to the Hindujas had no relation to the Bofors case and the legal opinion pertained to a power project in Andhra Pradesh.

“The opinion given to the Hinduja National Power Corporation Ltd had no connection with the Bofors case,” Sorabjee said. “Hence it would not tantamount to be in conflict with national interests”.

He said the “opinion sought was regarding the interpretation of a counter-guarantee given in respect of a power project in Andhra Pradesh”. He added that he had taken the Centre’s permission before offering any advice.

The attorney-general also rebutted Jethmalani’s allegations on the telecom issue, terming it as “false”. He said the actual amount received as legal fee was Rs 31,500 and not as large a sum as was made out by Jethmalani.

For 15 appearances in Delhi High Court, five legal conferences and settling submissions in connected matters, he received Rs 4,40,000.    


 
 
CONG CRY FOR ATAL STATEMENT 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, July 27 
Smelling blood, the Congress today demanded a statement from the Prime Minister on the Ram Jethmalani issue and sought the former law minister’s prosecution for alleged violation of secrecy laws.

The Congress plans to ask for a joint parliamentary committee probe into the allegations and counter-allegations made by Jethmalani and his detractors.

Both Houses of Parliament were paralysed with a vociferous Opposition stalling proceedings to demand A.B. Vajpayee’s statement on the charges levelled by Jethmalani against the chief justice and the attorney-general.

Some Congress members trooped into the well to press for Vajpayee’s presence. The Speaker adjourned the Lok Sabha after his repeated appeals to members to restore order fell on deaf ears.

In the Rajya Sabha, the Opposition raised the demand for Jethmalani’s prosecution. Leading the charge, Congress MP Kapil Sibal said Jethmalani should be prosecuted for his “criminal offence of possessing official secret documents” when he had ceased to be a minister. Sibal was supported by Nilotpal Basu of the CPM.

The Congress’ insistence on Vajpayee’s statement is aimed at creating further divisions within the NDA and bringing into focus the charges of corruption against constitutional functionaries and the former law minister.

“Let the Prime Minister order an inquiry and prosecute Jethmalani. He will spill more beans,” a party floor manager said. “Jethmalani is one we all love to hate.”

The row has come as a big boost for Sonia Gandhi as it has shifted the attention from the bungle over Bal Thackeray’s arrest.

The Congress believes if the Vajpayee regime is forced to move against Jethmalani, its position will become more vulnerable.

Congress spokesman Ajit Jogi cited three reasons why the party was demanding the statement:

Jethmalani is claiming he was sacked. The Prime Minister is bound to inform Parliament of the reasons for his exit.

Jethmalani alleged that Vajpayee was “manipulated” to accept his resignation. What is the Prime Minister’s response to the charge?

Serious allegations have been levelled against the judiciary and attorney-general. Vajpayee must tell the truth on these allegations.    


 
 
RED-FACED GOVT WAITS FOR DUST TO SETTLE 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, July 27 
Though deeply embarrassed by former law minister Ram Jethmalani’s allegations against Chief Justice A.S. Anand and attorney-general Soli Sorabjee, the Centre appears unwilling to take action against him and wants to let the controversy die down on its own.

The government may at the most order a token inquiry to find out how the documents reached Jethmalani or whether he had violated the oath of secrecy.

Allowing matters to linger will further denigrate the offices of the chief justice and the attorney-general, something the government wants to avoid, sources said.

Rejecting the Opposition demand for a statement by the Prime Minister in Parliament, PMO sources said Jethmalani and Sorabjee had already spoken and there was nothing more to say on the issue. “All this happened outside the House, there is nothing for the Prime Minister to say on this matter,” an aide of Atal Behari Vajpayee said. He added that the Opposition should specify what it wanted clarified.

Even as Jethmalani dared the government to take action against him for allegedly violating the oath of secrecy, the official reaction has been muted. Making light of his allegations against the chief justice and the attorney-general, law minister Arun Jaitley merely said: “The government completely disagrees with his (Jethmalani’s) views and perceptions”.

Defending Sorabjee, a senior Cabinet minister said he gave legal opinion to the National Power Corporation Limited, owned by the Hindujas, only after getting clearance from the government. The Centre had granted him permission as is done in “exceptional” cases, the minister added. “The law minister himself on May 19, 1999 gave permission to Sorabjee,” he said.

Immediately after Jethmalani went public, Vajpayee and his Cabinet colleagues, including home minister L.K. Advani, law minister Arun Jaitley and parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan, met at the Prime Minister’s residence. Sources said the government is trying to figure out how to limit the damage to the minimum.

The Centre may explore the option of proceeding against Jethmalani for violating the oath of secrecy, which he is bound by even after he ceased to be a minister.

Action could be taken against the former law minister for making public parts of correspondence between the government of India and the chief justice, a senior Cabinet minister said. Under rule 238, there is a bar on making any statement in the House against a person occupying high constitutional office.

The government’s primary concern is to maintain cordial ties between the executive and the judiciary, the minister said. “The government is not in favour of creating disharmony between various wings of the state,” he added.

One view in the government and among those in the BJP sympathetic to Jethmalani is to seek legal opinion on whether “taking out documents to defend himself and restore one’s personal reputation” amounts to violation of law.

The government is also ascertaining whether Jethmalani as law minister marked certain privileged correspondence as “confidential” or not. If they were not marked confidential or secret, action cannot be taken against him. However, Arun Jaitley admitted that some of the documents Jethmalani wanted to place before the House were “secret”.

The government may set up an inquiry to find out how “the documents (in Jethmalani’s possession) have gone out”in order to buy time and satisfy the Opposition, which stalled the proceedings in both the Houses today, demanding Jethmalani’s prosecution. Jethmalani himself did not make the documents public when he released the statement he was barred from making in the Rajya Sabha.    


 
 
TAXMEN RAID SANGEETA HOUSE 
 
 
 
Bangalore, July 27 
Income-tax authorities today raided eight premises in Bangalore, including a residential flat belonging to cricketer Mohammed Azharuddin’s wife, Sangeeta Bijlani, in connection with the match-fix probe.

The search party also entered the properties of builder Suresh Jain, who is said to have business links with the former captain.

Jain’s posh retreat on the outskirts of the City, Dominion Club, was also searched. Senior income-tax officer K.K. Mishra confirmed the raids, saying they were part of the on-going investigation, but declined to elaborate.

Azharuddin had business interests in a four-star hotel in the city, but pulled out recently. Former chief minister J.H. Patel had allotted a site to him.    


 
 
MATCH-FIX TAPES IN TIT-FOR-TAT TUSSLE 
 
 
FROM CHANDAN NANDY
 
New Delhi, July 27 
Match-fixing investigators in India and South Africa are engaged in a tug-of-war over vital information needed by both sides to bring the inquiries to their legal conclusion.

With Delhi Police refusing to part with the tapes containing Hansie Cronje’s alleged conversation with a bookie, agencies in Johannesburg have decided, in a tit-for-tat gesture, to hold back the bank accounts details of Cronje and the conduit believed to have given him money. The tussle is threatening to snowball into a diplomatic wrangle.

Government sources said the King Commission, which is probing the charges against Cronje, the former South African captain, had hit a stonewall in the shape of Delhi Police.

The department is doing everything in its power to hold back the tapes containing the conversation between Cronje and London-based match-fixer Sanjeev Chawla, alias Sanjay Chawla.

The Delhi Police crime branch, which made public portions of the conversation that blew the lid off the match-fixing scandal early in April, has refused to hand over the audio tapes on grounds that they are “key evidence” and will be the basis of its chargesheet.

“The King Commission wants all the tapes and it will not be possible for us to part with them all. Moreover, the commission is conducting its inquiry openly, with television cameras beaming the hearings live worldwide. Now there is no guarantee that the tapes, if we part with them, will not be made public,” a senior police official said.

The official said if that happened, all the “evidentiary value” would be lost when the case went to trial. “After all, most of the contents of the tapes were not made public even in India. So how does the King Commission expect us to hand them over,” he asked.

The commission had apparently put in several requests through diplomatic channels for quick delivery of the tapes. But with India playing hard to get, South Africa is reciprocating in kind.

The investigators there are now sitting on the documentary information on the bank accounts of Cronje and sweet-shop owner Hamid ‘Banjo’ Cassim. The latter is believed to be a bookie and was in constant touch with both Cronje and Chawla. The crime branch wants the account details to prove that money was transferred by Chawla to Cronje through Cassim.

“This would form an essential part of the chargesheet. But it is being delayed because of little help from South Africa,” a police source said.

Commenting on the logjam, an official said: “It is obviously a situation of you-scratch-my-back-and-I-will-scratch-yours. But neither side trusts the other.”

Spurned by South Africa, the crime branch has now sought the assistance of Interpol through its unit in the CBI to get the account details.    

 

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