Ranchi, Oct. 3: The sun may have set on the self-styled Raja of the masses, RJD chief Lalu Prasad, as he was sentenced to five years’ rigorous imprisonment by a special CBI court today, three days after he and 44 others were found guilty in the fodder scam.
“I am innocent,” said an unusually subdued Lalu right after judge Prabas Kumar Singh pronounced the sentence.
The special CBI court also slapped on him a fine of Rs 25 lakh, which, if he fails to pay, will prolong his jail term by six more months.
Lalu’s lawyers have said they would appeal against the judgement, but that will have to wait till October 17 when Jharkhand High Court reopens after Puja vacations.
Lalu, disqualified as MP, is facing four other related cases in the Rs 950-crore scam that is pending at different designated CBI courts in Ranchi and Patna.
This afternoon, CBI judge Prabas Kumar Singh sentenced Lalu and 36 others (see box), including former Bihar chief minister Jagannath Mishra, IAS and animal husbandry officials and fodder suppliers spanning Ranchi, Patna, Calcutta and Delhi.
Starting a little after 2pm, he wrapped up the process in 25 minutes, which the convicted heard via videoconferencing at Birsa Munda Central Jail, Hotwar. In all, 45 persons had been found guilty of embezzling Rs 37.7 crore from the Chaibasa treasury (case No. RC 20A/ 96) on September 30. Eight had received interim bail the same afternoon.
Since the morning, Lalu’s lawyers made an impassioned appeal for leniency. Senior counsel Surendra Prasad Singh argued: “Giving him this harsh punishment is tantamount to awarding him death sentence owing to his age, respect in society and the position he held. He has a clean record. As railway minister, he has set a record of growth. He is suffering from many diseases and he has suffered agony for the past 17 years as the CBI dragged the case.”
Special CBI prosecutor B.M.P. Singh opposed the defence. “Corruption in high places is intolerable. Seldom are such high and mighty successfully tried and prosecuted in corruption cases. Harsh punishment to them will send a message to society. Judiciary is the only recourse left,” Singh said.
Around 2.20 pm, when Lalu’s turn came, the judge paused for a moment. The 20ftx12ft room, named courtroom E, fell silent. “Lalu Prasad Yadav, accused No. 20, is given five years of rigorous jail term and Rs 25 lakh as fine,” read out the judge.
The court found him guilty under sections 120 (B), 420, 409, 467, 468, 471, 477 (A) and sections 13 (1), 13 (2) (D) of Prevention of Corruption Act.
Fines against Lalu had been imposed under two categories — Rs 15 lakh under section 120 (B) of IPC and Rs 10 lakh under section 13 (1) (D) of PC Act.
Lalu, inside the specially mounted videoconference room at Birsa jail, told the judge on camera: “Sir, I am innocent. I have been falsely framed in the case.”
Speaking to The Telegraph, two of Lalu’s lawyers, Singh and Rajniti Prasad, termed the sentence and the judge “highly biased”.
“We never expected this. It is too much. We will file an appeal before Jharkhand High Court on October 17 after Durga Puja vacation,” Prasad, also an RJD leader, said.
Then he sobbed: “We feared the court was prejudiced and had approached Supreme Court to change the judge. Our apprehensions came true today. Laluji jail mein hain, par woh humare dil mein base hain (Laluji is in jail, but he lives in our hearts).”