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Judge remand extended with ‘judicial scandal’ label

New Delhi, May 7: Armed with a Supreme Court directive, a trial court today extended till May 12 the CBI custody of former Delhi High Court judge Shamit Mukherjee, who allegedly gave a “favourable judgment” benefiting a South-Delhi restaurant owner.

Mukherjee’s seven-day remand was to end today. Two days ago, Delhi High Court had granted its former judge one month’s interim bail, which would have come into force after the expiry of the remand.

But the CBI today approached the Supreme Court, which left it to the trial court to take a decision whether the agency’s demand for further custody was justified.

In his five-page order, trial court special judge Prem Kumar said that “it is in the interest of the investigation and also in the interest of justice that to unearth the conspiracy, the police custody remand of the accused is extended up to May 12”.

“This is a case which may be termed a judicial scandal,” Kumar said in his lengthy order. Citing a Supreme Court order, Kumar said: “A judicial scandal has always been regarded as far more deplorable than a scandal involving either the executive or a member of the legislature. The slightest hint of irregularity or impropriety in the court is a cause of greater anxiety and alarm.”

“The standards of judicial behaviour, both on and off the bench, are normally extremely high. For a judge to deviate from such standards of honesty and impartiality is to betray the trust reposed on him. No excuse or no legal relativity can condone such betrayal,” the court said.

Judge Kumar also directed that Vinod Khatri, owner of Sahara Restaurant in South Delhi and the alleged prime beneficiary, be send to the custody of the CBI after he surrendered in the court this evening.

The court had issued a non-bailable warrant against Khatri, who was absconding after the case was registered on April 29. The CBI whisked away Khatri from the courtroom to its headquarters for interrogation.

Suspended vice-chairman of Delhi Development Authority (DDA) Subhash Sharma, who has been charged in three other cases of the land scam, too, was handed over to the CBI for custodial interrogation till May 12.

In its FIR, the CBI has alleged that Khatri, through Dharambir Khattar, an alleged fixer, had approached Mukherjee, seeking a favourable judgment in a case relating to encroachment on a South Delhi road where his Sahara Restaurant is located.

The CBI had listed five reasons for seeking extension of Mukherjee’s remand. The CBI wanted to question the judge on the contents of his official laptop computer, which the agency has received from the registrar general of Delhi High Court yesterday.

Special public prosecutor T.P. Singh claimed in the court that Mukherjee had made various “sleaze calls” and the CBI needed to interrogate him to verify the content of the calls and to whom they were made.

Though the CBI said that more than 1,000 calls were made by Mukherjee, it did not specify how many were “sleazy”.

The CBI also alleged that Mukherjee was not cooperating with the investigators and twice refused to give voice samples to the forensic team. Voice samples are needed to establish the identity of the voice in the telephone conversations.

The court accepted that the CBI’s reasons for extension of the remand were “proper” and “weighty”.

The court dismissed defence lawyers’ contention that the CBI committed contempt of the high court’s order by seeking extension of the remand.

Kumar said Delhi High Court “did not scuttle the right of the CBI to seek further police remand”, but he hoped that the “agency would not be pressing for further remand unless the same was absolutely essential”.

The court rejected the bail application filed by suspended DDA director (lands) Jagdish Chander.

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