Virbhadra graft case: Prime witness brings doubt

Last Updated: Fri, Nov 16, 2012 11:10 hrs

Shimla, Nov 16 (IANS) In a major shift, one of the prime witnesses in the corruption case against former chief minister and Congress leader Virbhadra Singh Friday brought an element of doubt in a trial court here.

Witness Vijai Singh Mankotia, once Virbhadra Singh's political adversary, informed the court of Special Judge B.L. Soni that the recorded voices in an audio cassette "seem to be of Virbhadra Singh, his wife Pratibha Singh and former Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer Mohinder Lal".

Mankotia's statement is significant as he has been insisting that the telephonic conversations about monetary transactions were that of the couple and the officer.

Even in his statement before police, Mankotia had said the voices were of the trio.

Virbhadra Singh and his wife were booked by the state police Aug 3, 2009, under the Prevention of Corruption Act for alleged misuse of official position and criminal misconduct while he was chief minister in 1989.

According to police, they were booked on the basis of the cassette released by Mankotia in 2007.

The cassette purportedly contained telephonic conversations regarding monetary transactions between Virbhadra Singh and Lal, who is now dead.

It also allegedly contained voices of Pratibha Singh and some industrialists, who have been identified by the police, proposing to invest in the state.

Mankotia told the court that somebody left the cassette at his residence. Later, he handed it over to the police for investigation.

Special Public Prosecutor Jiwan Lal Sharma told IANS that the court has recorded the statement of 24 of the 63 witnesses in the case.

He said some of witnesses have been summoned for recording statements Saturday, the last date for testimony.

The trial court, while framing the graft charges against the couple June 25, observed the "materials on record show existence of criminal conspiracy by Virbhadra Singh and Pratibha Singh".

A day after the framing of charges, Virbhadra Singh resigned as union minister for micro, small and medium enterprises.

Interestingly, ahead of Nov 4 assembly polls in the state, Mankotia rejoined the Congress on the recommendation of five−time chief minister and state Congress president Virbhadra Singh.

Mankotia had released the cassette after he was expelled from the Congress party.

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