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Mumbai door ajar for CBI

Mumbai, Nov. 24: Giving in to pressure from all sides, the Congress in Maharashtra today indicated that it is open to handing over the fake stamp-paper scam to the CBI.

Chief minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, who had been resisting the move, said the Centre’s demand for a CBI probe into the stamp scam masterminded by Abdul Karim Telgi could be considered.

However, the chief minister was quick to qualify his statement with a rider. “But the final decision will have to be taken by Bombay High Court as it is the high court which had instituted the special investigation team, and it is the court to which the team is directly reporting to,’’ he said.

He also blamed the Centre for failing to act early in the case. “They woke up late,’’ he said.

Pressure on Shinde to call for a CBI probe had been mounting after the Opposition Shiv Sena-BJP met the governor with a complaint alleging the complicity of certain ministers in the Telgi scam, now valued at Rs 39,000 crore.

It didn’t help the Congress that it had a governor in Mohammad Fazal who openly supported a CBI probe into the scam. Fazal even wrote a letter — which again became public — to Shinde, telling the chief minister that in his “personal opinion’’ it would be best in the larger interest to hand over the case to the CBI.

But matters got out of hand after CBI chief P.C. Sharma said in Mumbai recently that not only was the CBI not burdened with work “as generally believed’’, it was also open to the idea of investigating the Telgi scam “with its interstate and national security ramifications’’.

The final straw came when the CBI in Delhi said the scam amount was much bigger than Rs 3,000 crore. “It could be 10 times that amount,’’ Sharma said. Also Allahabad High Court, reacting to a petition, asked the Centre to start a CBI investigation.

Shinde, however, was circumspect about the central investigation, which may go on to reveal, as former police commissioner Julio Ribeiro said, the “political faces behind the shadows’’.

“The matter is sub judice,’’ he said, adding that the ultimate decision will be taken by Bombay High Court on November 27 — the day the Telgi case and the role of police officers involved in it comes up for hearing.

There are allegations from the BJP that a senior minister in the state government was given Rs 20 crore by a Telgi henchman to help the scamster out. The BJP has said the henchman, Antim Totla, made numerous calls from his cellphone to a senior NCP leader. Two MLAs, one from Andhra Pradesh and another from Maharashtra, are in jail in connection with the Telgi case.

Shinde had earlier said the special investigation team (SIT), which has arrested joint commissioner of police Sreedhar Vagal and 10 other police officers, was doing a commendable job. “The SIT has performed in a manner that has matched our highest expectations,’’ Shinde had said, adding caustically that the CBI was not the last thing in investigation.

“Many of the things they (CBI) have done in the past have raised a lot of questions,’’ he said.

The CBI, in a limited way, is already investigating the Telgi case in Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Delhi. It has also begun looking at the financial dealings of the Nashik press, which Telgi used while expanding his fake stamp-paper empire.

Special court trial begins

A special court in Bangalore today formally commenced trial in the fake stamp-paper scam, reports PTI. Sessions court judge A.T. Manoli, who has been appointed to preside over the special court and conduct the trial, took charge at the high-security Bangalore Central Jail in Parappana Agrahahara on the outskirts of the city.

Judge Manoli said he had sought transfer of the documents of the cases pending before various courts, including the fast track court and the high court. The trial would begin once the documents were transferred, he said.

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