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Former aide springs to Shibu defence

Ranchi, Dec. 5: In a fresh twist to the real-life drama involving Shibu Soren, his former confidant Suraj Mandal (in picture), expelled from the JMM in 1999, today claimed that Soren did not know the alleged killers, the Mehta brothers.

Mandal said the Mehtas did not enjoy any “special relationship” with Soren. “In fact, I was instrumental for Nand Kishore Mehta’s entry into the JMM, along with Shailendra Bhattacharya and Kumar Varun in 1993. Again, I gave him a ticket for contesting the Assembly election from Hatia in 1995. Soren hardly knew him,” he revealed.

The case against Soren was built up around the premise that he was close to the Mehta brothers and that the latter had carried out the murder of Soren’s private secretary at his behest. Significantly, Mandal was also a co-accused with Soren in the JMM bribery case. Knowledge of the bribery is cited as one of the reasons for the murder.

Mandal also alleged that one of the key CBI witnesses in the case was related to a former director of the bureau and that the witness had a running feud with the Mehtas over a plot of land. He has reasons to believe, alleged Mandal, that the Mehtas were implicated in a false case by CBI officials to help the director’s relative settle scores.

The former JMM vice-president, who is now with the JVM, asserted that he would have gladly been a defence witness and revealed all but lamented that he was never called by Soren to depose. He also claimed to have prepared a video cassette comprising interviews with villagers, who had called the “CBI’s bluff” and stated on camera that the body the agency had exhumed probably belonged to one Aleem from Mandar, who had been killed following his illicit relations with a Christian woman.

Mandal said Soren was often taken for a ride by unscrupulous people. “Men like me were expelled by Soren while those like Jha flourished in the party because they smooth-talked him into believing anything.”

Asked why he had not disclosed all this earlier, Mandal replied: “Because I was never asked these questions, either by the CBI or by the media.”

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