The Telegraph
Thursday , January 12 , 2017

IT order sinks payoffs case

New Delhi, Jan. 11: The Supreme Court today refused to direct an investigation into the alleged payoffs to Narendra Modi by two corporate houses, accepting the Income Tax Settlement Commission order of November 11, 2016, that there was no material for prosecution against the Sahara Group.

"Courts have to be on guard while ordering investigation against important constitutional functionaries. In the absence of some cogent material, the documents on the basis of which investigation is sought is itself inadmissible as evidence," a bench of Justices Arun Misra and Amitav Roy said.

"In such case, the process of law can be abused very easily to achieve ulterior motive goals and no democracy can survive in case investigations are set in motion on the basis of flimsy (material) without there being any cogent material or resources."

The court was hearing a PIL filed by activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan seeking an SIT probe into the alleged payoffs made to Modi, while he was Gujarat chief minister, and several political functionaries by the Aditya Birla Group and the Sahara Group.

The details of the alleged payoffs were reportedly found in the computers of top company executives during CBI and income-tax raids in 2013 and 2014.

Bhushan assailed the Income Tax Settlement Commission order, claiming it had ignored incriminating material seized during the raids.

But attorney-general Mukul Rohatgi cited apex court judgments to argue that no probe could be ordered on mere "loose papers" and irrelevant material.

Rohatgi submitted that in terms of Section 34 of the Indian Evidence Act, entries made in books of account, even if in electronic form, were alone not sufficient evidence to charge any person with liability.

The court said that in the case of Sahara, the PIL had mostly relied on entries made in Excel sheets seized from the company's premises that were not part of the books of accounts.

At one point, Justice Roy wondered whether a document seized from an employee's personal computer could be linked to the company's documents.

The apex court, after hearing elaborate arguments, said: "We are of the considered opinion no case is made out on basis of Sahara/Birla documents to direct investigation against any person.

"Materials placed are not good enough to direct investigation or registration of case.... The applications are meritless and dismissed," Justice Misra said.

In a statement later, Bhushan said the apex court's refusal to order a probe against political bigwigs was "very unfortunate and is a setback to the whole campaign against corruption and for probity in public life.

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