The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mud-slinging in stamp scam

Mumbai, Nov. 17: The CBI may be at the gates of scam-clouded Mumbai, sniffing around in Nashik and looking for leads into the Rs 3,000 crore fake stamp paper racket. But the Maharashtra government remains unwilling to hand over investigations to the bureau lest things get more difficult for the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party coalition.

Even so, the BJP today made fresh and stronger allegations against the government, adding: “No one, at least not now, can say that the new evidence doesn’t warrant a CBI inquiry.’’

But deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal sought to return the fire, charging Shiv Sena-BJP leaders with supporting prime accused Abdul Karim Telgi by nominating his associate and Samajwadi Party MLA Anil Gote for the deputy Speaker’s post.

BJP legislative council leader Nitin Gadkari had begun the mud-slinging earlier in the day, handing out a mobile phone number belonging to local businessman Antim Totla. The businessman has been in the news for his alleged proximity to a relative of Bhujbal and his alleged links with Telgi.

“Anyone can find out from the cell phone company how many times Totla called up certain NCP leaders from this number,’’ Gadkari said. Echoing the demand for a CBI inquiry, he also alleged that Totla had paid a Rs 20 crore bribe to a senior NCP leader on Telgi’s behalf. He did not name the politician, but there was little doubt whom he meant.

But NCP leader Bhujbal, who looked as if he would rather not field uncomfortable questions, responded by saying Gote, currently in jail for his role in the stamp scam, had been “protected’’ by the BJP even after his complicity came to light. “Gote was fighting elections for the post of deputy Speaker as a Shiv Sena-BJP candidate. In fact, I got a call from their senior leader Gopinath Munde who requested me not to harass Gote,’’ Bhujbal said.

The deputy chief minister denied that Telgi had hosted Congress and NCP leaders who had been bundled to a Bangalore resort during the political crisis of June 2002. Afraid that its MLAs would be poached by the Sena and the BJP ahead of a crucial confidence motion, the government bundled its MLAs to Bangalore where they stayed until the crisis was resolved. The BJP says it has evidence the Rs 1 crore tab of keeping the legislators’ flock together was picked up by Telgi.

But Bhujbal said: “The question of Telgi bearing the expenses doesn’t arise.’’ He said the entire cost was borne by the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee. “They paid for us (NCP MLAs) also,’’ the deputy chief minister added.

Elsewhere, a CBI team headed by deputy inspector-general Prabodh Kumar and investigating officer P.K. Tiwari questioned Railway Police Force officers and employees at the India Security Press in Nashik. The team, which has been asked to probe the scam by the Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Delhi governments, has also visited Pune in this connection.

Telgi is alleged to have involved some of the government staff at the printing press to help him out with their expertise in making stamps.

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