Will SC reject plea for SIT to examine payoffs to politicians?

The apex court is expected to revisit on Thursday NGO Common Cause’s PIL seeking constitution of a SIT to inquire into evidence of pay-offs to politicians gathered from Sahara and Aditya Birla groups

Photo courtesy: Twitter/@SHShumanists
Photo courtesy: Twitter/@SHShumanists
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NH Political Bureau

Rupees 25 crore in cash stashed in two almirahs on the 4th floor of the UCO Bank Building on Parliament Street, New Delhi was not what the team from Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) was looking for on the morning of October 15, 2013.


The CBI was hunting for incriminating documents related to allocation of coal blocks. But the recovery of what turned out to be unaccounted for cash was turned over to the Income Tax Department for investigation. CBI officials who were part of the raiding team, recall that they were told that the money was meant for buying ‘Diwali gifts’ for the power elite in the national capital. They later claimed before Income Tax officials that the cash was meant for ‘sundry expenses’.

The Aditya Birla Group papers


Other documents, computers and laptops were seized during the simultaneous raids in Mumbai, Secunderabad and Bhubaneshwar at the offices of Aditya Birla Group, which, the Common Cause petition claims, indicated the offence of bribery, possession of black money and disproportionate assets besides Income Tax violations. But the actionable evidence concerning bribery of important public functionaries, the petition complains, was given a quiet burial by the agencies.


During interrogation by IT officials, an Aditya Birla Group vice president Shubhendu Amitabh claimed that the abbreviation “Gujarat CM-25 cr ( 12 done-rest ?)” was a ‘personal noting’ and indicated a project in a PSU in Gujarat by the name of Alkali Chemical. Asked if there were other notings and records where the same abbreviation had been used for the PSU, he was evasive, says an IT document.




Photo by Subhendu Ghosh/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Subhendu Ghosh/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
The Sahara papers name prominent leaders of all political parties, including several chief ministers at the time

The Sahara Group Papers


A year later the abbreviation ‘Gujarat CM’ again seems to have appeared in papers seized from a palatial house in Greater Kailash, Delhi. This was in November, 2014, and the Excel sheets, handwritten notes etc indicated payments made to politicians across the political spectrum between May, 2013 and March, 2014. A sum of ₹135 crore in cash was also recovered from three different premises in the national capital.


Two years later in November, 2016 some of those Excel sheets, computer printouts and handwritten figures surfaced in the public domain and have been annexed in a petition filed by ‘Common Cause’ in the Supreme Court praying for an inquiry into the pay-offs.


The documents, leaked apparently by whistleblowers within the Finance ministry, have come to be known as ‘Sahara Papers’ which had been seized from three premises of Sahara India including the office in Greater Kailash.


The Common Cause petition claims that noted criminal lawyer Ram Jethmalani received a set of these documents in June, 2016. In a bid to authenticate the documents, he sought a forensic examination of some of them to verify the signature of the Deputy Director (Income Tax) Ankita Pandey found on a seized document along with signature of two witnesses. Delhi Government’s forensic lab confirmed to Jethmalani that the signature was of the officer indeed.


While the documents appeared damning enough, the conduct of the Government also lent an element of suspense to the ‘Sahara case’. Sources in the Income Tax department claimed that Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had got a senior officer of the rank of Chief Commissioner of Income tax , a trusted lieutenant, to be shifted from Mumbai to Delhi to exclusively supervise the case.

The names in Sahara


The Excel Sheets from Sahara are remarkable for a number of reasons.

  • They name prominent leaders of all political parties including the BJP, Congress and the Left, including several chief ministers at the time
  • The most elaborate Excel sheet gave details of the amount received, from where and when, names of politicians to whom the amount was transferred and when and, finally, the names of people who appear to have delivered the sums (eg through Jaiswalji, Nandi Ji etc).
  • Some of these names of people who delivered the money were found to be Sahara employees by a sting operation carried out by a TV channel.
  • The amounts were apparently intended to be spent in the General Election of 2014 as one of the sheets recorded the constituencies of each politician and also marked the day of polling.
  • On one of the sheets was a suggestion that a lady in Mumbai, a prominent BJP politician who regularly appears on TV, be asked to help. “ask her to help from A. General to withdrawal ( close) Bombay case” read the noting.

“What aroused both amusement and suspicion,” admitted an Income Tax official, “was the extraordinary secrecy attached to the case, with the officer supervising the case told to report only to the FM and not to even breathe about the case to anyone else.”


While the documents appeared damning enough, the conduct of the Government also lent an element of suspense to the ‘Sahara case’. Sources in the Income Tax department claimed that Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had got a senior officer of the rank of Chief Commissioner of Income tax , a trusted lieutenant, to be shifted from Mumbai to Delhi to exclusively supervise the case.


“What aroused both amusement and suspicion,” admitted an Income Tax official, “was the extraordinary secrecy attached to the case, with the officer supervising the case told to report only to the FM and not to even breathe about the case to anyone else.”


But are they evidence of criminality? The opinion is divided with some legal experts pointing out that the Supreme Court had held in the Jain Hawala case that mere mention of names and figures in diaries or on paper were not sufficient to establish complicity, unless it could be proved that the money had indeed been received and paid. As the Supreme Court observed last month, “ anybody could fabricate these papers”.


Others including the petitioner’s counsel Prashant Bhushan differ. These papers were seized by official agencies from corporate bodies, they point out. And officials have admitted as much during their interrogation by the official agencies. And that is precisely why an investigation is required to unravel the truth.


It would require both CBI and the Income Tax to work in tandem to establish the chain, without which charges of bribery, illegal gratification, money laundering or corrupt practices etc cannot be proved in a court of law.


Common Cause also maintains that both the Sahara Group and the Aditya Birla Group have approached the Income Tax Settlement Commission to settle the case. That is also why there is urgency for the Supreme Court to intervene and order an inquiry.


With PTI inputs.

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Published: 14 Dec 2016, 7:01 PM