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Stamp political shadow lengthens

Mumbai, Nov. 11: A day before the inquiry report on the stamp paper scam is submitted to Bombay High Court, governor Mohammad Fazal went to Delhi apparently to brief central leaders amid signs that, after police officers, it may be the turn of politicians to be felled.

The high court’s deadline to come up with the report on the Rs 3,000-crore scam is tomorrow, and today investigators riffled through papers at arrested IPS officer Sreedhar Vagal’s office at the Maharashtra Police headquarters in Colaba.

Nine police officers — one more sub-inspector was arrested today — two MLAs and a host of others have already been picked up. Investigations have cast an ominous shadow on the Congress-NCP government, with deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal being accused by the Opposition BJP-Shiv Sena combine of being linked to the racket.

Bhujbal had visited the governor yesterday. Today, it was chief minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, who denied that he was called by the governor in connection with the scam, but admitted that it was discussed. Fazal later left for Delhi and was scheduled to meet “some representatives at the Centre”.

Shinde rejected the Opposition’s demand for handing over the probe to the CBI from the high court- appointed special investigation team, which has limited jurisdiction. Former Mumbai police commissioners have echoed the Opposition view as they feel a CBI inquiry can expose the “politicians behind the policemen behind the criminal”.

“There is no need to hand over the probe to the CBI since the state police officials are carrying out their job satisfactorily. The team is doing a commendable job and I have full confidence in it,” Shinde said.

“Their integrity is beyond doubt as they have arrested senior police personnel in connection with the scam.’’

Hinting at pressures of coalition politics, Shinde pleaded helplessness regarding action against his junior, Bhujbal, who belongs to the NCP. Relations between the partners have been strained.

In the search at Vagal’s office, a large number of documents were seized, though if these were in any way connected with the scam was not clear. A day after Vagal’s arrest last week, police had found documents related to the scam that were stacked in three suitcases and kept in the boot of his car.

The case against other police officers and politicians is believed to have strengthened after Karnataka police yesterday handed over 56 tapes containing Telgi’s conversations with senior officers. The tapes are alleged to contain promises made by politicians and police officers to help Telgi out in exchange for money. Vagal has been charged with accepting Rs 76 lakh from Telgi and another officer, M.C. Mulani, now suspended, is alleged to have asked Telgi for a bribe of Rs 3 crore.

The newly-appointed director general of police, S.M. Shangari, has offered additional protection to members of the investigating team because of the threat perception in the case, which has claimed the lives of two witnesses. Telgi’s driver, Christopher, was found dead in a Cuffe Parade house in 1998. Another witness was murdered in Navi Mumbai in June this year.

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