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Rift forces Laloo assets judge to seek transfer

Patna, Jan. 21: Differences between the special CBI court judge and the CBI prosecution counsel are threatening to delay proceedings in the disproportionate assets case involving top Rashtriya Janata Dal leaders.

CBI prosecution counsel L.R. Ansari had accused special CBI court judge S.K. Mishra of being prejudiced against the prosecution and alleged “omissions and substitutions” in recording a defence witness’s statement.

The controversy broke after the deposition of one of the 230 defence witnesses, for chargesheeted Rashtriya Janata chief Laloo Prasad Yadav and Bihar chief minister Rabri Devi in case Rc5(A)98, was recorded. The witness, Mukund Rai, is Laloo Prasad’s elder brother.

Mishra took exception to Ansari’s statement and shot back saying it was “false, baseless and against the materials on record”.

Now, Mishra has asked to be relieved as trial judge in the case and transferred out of Patna. He is said to have made a representation to this effect in Patna High Court.

Mishra’s plea came up for discussion at the high court’s standing committee recently. No decision has been taken yet by the high court, which is monitoring the trial.

When asked, Mishra refused to comment on the controversy as did Ansari. “The arguments were part of court record. It is all there,” a CBI court source said.

If Mishra were to be transferred, getting a new judge would take time, thus delaying the hearing of the case.

Rai, while deposing in the court, had said that in 1990, Rabri Devi — Laloo Prasad was chief minister then — owned 25-26 cows. In 1995-96, the number had grown to about 50-60, he said, including bachha (calf) and bachhi (she-calf). Rai deposed regularly between July 26 and 30.

His statements became crucial in the context of Rabri Devi’s claim that the additional assets the CBI accused her of possessing had accrued from her dairy farm.

Ansari claimed in his statement to the court that Rai had made other observations which were not there in the court record.

Ansari, filing an affidavit in the court, said Rai had also told the court that, after Rabri Devi came to Patna, he (Rai) had shifted to another building about 50 yards from the place where she lived.

Ansari also pointed out that at two places, the word “bachha” was not recorded. He accused Mishra of indulging in “omissions and substitutions (which) might cause irreparable loss to the prosecution case”, the affidavit said.

After Mishra took exception to Ansari’s statement, the CBI moved a petition against the judge in the high court.

Justice Chandramauli Kumar Prasad, hearing this case, said in his order: “He (the trial judge) should realise that he is trying a case in which a chief minister and an ex-chief minister of the state have been named accused and the case has drawn the attention of a large number of people.”

The trial court has recorded the statements of 107 prosecution witnesses and is now recording the statements of 230 defence witnesses. After this, arguments in the case would be heard and the judgment would then follow, court sources said.

The high court, which had asked the trial court judge in 2000 to wrap up hearings in six months, has been enquiring how much more time the case would take.

Over two years and an attack on defence advocate Chittaranjan Sinha later, the case, said to be politically sensitive, is nowhere near completion. For around six months, there was no judge to hear the case.

The delay in the trial has triggered resentment in legal and political circles.

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