The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Stingless sentence, dud fine on Telgi

Mumbai, June 28: Abdul Karim Telgi, believed to be India’s biggest fraudster, was today handed a 13-year term that he may not be able to serve out and a record Rs 102-crore fine that he will not pay.

Nor did the fake stamp-paper king name any of the politicians he claims to have bribed as he ran his scam across a dozen states, swindling the exchequer out of thousands of crores.

Telgi’s lawyer said his client couldn’t afford the fine, believed to be the heaviest imposed by an Indian court. “He is very poor since his assets have been seized… so he will opt to serve an additional three years and three months,” Harshad Nimbalkar said after the Pune court sentencing.

That will take the term to over 16 years but Telgi is HIV positive and, his lawyer has said, “doesn’t expect to live longer than three years”.

The 46-year-old scamster is believed to have named several political bigwigs during his narco-analysis test, including Nationalist Congress Party leaders Sharad Pawar and Chhagan Bhujbal. His refusal to name even one today disappointed many, including hotelier Jayant V. Tinaikar, the whistleblower from Telgi’s hometown in Belgaum who lives under constant police guard.

“Telgi has ensured a comfortable stay in Yerawada jail (near Pune) in his last days by keeping his lips sealed,” Tinaikar said from an undisclosed location. “His decision to plead guilty immediately after the acquittal of three top police officials yesterday (of charges of stalling the probe) raises eyebrows.”

“Anything from special beds to quality food, let alone drugs and cellphones, is available at Yerawada if you have money or can pull strings,” a Pune police officer said.

Telgi, who has spent five years in the jail after his 2001 arrest, pleaded guilty today in the biggest of the about 30 cases against him.

“I have been advised to do this by my wife,” he said, breaking down, seeking leniency and claiming he repented his actions. Wife and co-accused Shahida, also HIV positive and currently on bail, also sobbed in court while pleading not guilty.

Later, Telgi told a TV channel that politicians were indeed involved: “The whole nation knows this. I have never denied it and nor am I denying it now.” But he claimed it was unfair for a convict to name others.

Telgi had twice before applied to the court offering to spill the beans and then backtracked.

His arrest had shaken Maharashtra’s political and bureaucratic establishments and led to the resignation of Bhujbal as deputy chief minister. Top officers were removed or arrested for suspected involvement.

Now, with the police, the politicians “who shielded and gained from him and were never interrogated despite their names cropping up repeatedly during the probe will also go scot free”, Tinaikar said.

The Bundgarden case, which blew the lid off the scam after seizures from a car, is the fourth in which Telgi has been sentenced this year after his first conviction in January 2006. The terms run concurrently.

One of the cases became a milestone in Indian judicial history as the first trial conducted though video-conferencing. He is to be tried in 24 more cases, in courts spread across the country from Calcutta, Pune and Mumbai to Ahmedabad, Bangalore and Hyderabad.

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