Corruption complaint to Lokpal malafide, politically motivated: Shibu Soren to Delhi HC

Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) chief Shibu Soren told the Delhi High Court on Thursday the corruption complaint filed against him by BJP MP Nishikant Dubey before the Lokpal was “purely malafide” and “politically motivated”.

Justice Subramonium Prasad was hearing a petition by the former Jharkhand chief minister challenging the complaint as well as the subsequent proceedings initiated against him by the Lokpal.

In his complaint to the Lokpal in August 2020, Dubey has claimed Shibu Soren and his family members acquired “huge wealth and properties by misusing the public exchequer and have been grossly indulged in corruption”.

On September 12 last year, the court had stayed the Lokpal proceedings but said the matter required consideration.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, representing Soren, argued on Thursday the complaint could not have been entertained by the ombudsman as it was not per the requirements of the law.

The senior lawyer contended the allegations pertained to a period that preceded the complaint by seven years and therefore cannot be looked into.

“There is not a single entry after 2013. There is a threshold bar (in law). None of the properties can be investigated,” he argued.

“(It is a) purely malafide, politically motivated (complaint) made by a BJP MP who has no knowledge and this is what Lokpal Act said should not be allowed,” Sibal contended.

In terms of provisions under Section 53 of the Lokpal and Lokayukta Act, 2013, a complaint cannot be made after the expiry of seven years from the date on which the offence mentioned in the complaint is alleged to have been committed.

The senior lawyer argued that the Lokpal Act “places a burden” on a complainant to substantiate the allegations, and the Lokpal has to collect material as well as seek comments from the public servant before proceeding further on any complaint.

“There is a burden that the complainant has to discharge. You can’t just make an allegation that I learnt that he is corrupt, you investigate,” he said.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who represented the Lokpal, as well as senior advocate ANS Nadkarni, appearing for the complainant, opposed Soren’s petition.

Mehta submitted the matter before the Lokpal was not at the stage of conviction for corruption, and a preliminary probe was ordered by the authority to enable it to decide if it wanted to proceed further on the complaint.

Nadkarni said the complaint made several serious allegations against the former chief minister.

The complainant had earlier filed an application seeking vacation of the high court’s interim order staying the proceedings by the Lokpal against Soren.

In his petition, Soren has claimed that the Lokpal could not have acted on the allegations made seven years after the alleged offence was committed and that it has wrongly granted extensions to CBI to submit its preliminary report on the complaint.

He has also assailed the Lokpal’s order dated August 4 on initiation of proceedings to determine whether a prima facie case exists to proceed against him, claiming it was passed without considering his preliminary objection on jurisdiction.

In its reply, the Lokpal has said the proceedings were being conducted as per the law and the complaint is still “open to adjudication” as “no final view has been formed”. The ombudsman has said it “cannot comment on the merit of the complaint at this stage”.

It has said the Lokpal was established to look into the allegations of corruption against public functionaries in accordance with India’s commitment to the policy of “zero corruption” and a “complaint need not be rejected at threshold”.

The Lokpal has emphasised that its proceedings are not vitiated by illegalities and there is neither any abuse of the process of law nor any violation of the petitioner’s fundamental rights.

“Given the nature of the allegations in the present case, a preliminary inquiry was the proper course of action, including to ascertain whether the petitioner and his family actually hold the properties mentioned in the complaint (in fact, in this case, the CBI identified more properties than were mentioned in the complaint), the date when they were acquired, and the sources of acquisition of such properties (as the offence of disproportionality can occur on a date later than the date of acquisition).

“Thus, a complaint need not be rejected at the threshold merely on the basis of the date(s)/event(s) described in it,” the counter affidavit filed by deputy registrar, Lokpal of India has said.

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The reply said the process of inquiry in this case involved the collection and verification of information/documents from multiple locations and from different authorities.

It said the petitioner “himself sought more time to submit his response/comments which were granted to him in the interest of justice” but the “petitioner’s family members did not respond and some also objected to the authority of the CBI to seek their reply”.

In his petition filed through lawyers Pallavi Langar and Vaibhav Tomar, Soren has said the corruption complaint was “motivated by political vendetta”.

He has claimed “illegalities and anomalies” have vitiated the entire proceedings before the Lokpal and their continuance would be in gross abuse of the process of law and violate the fundamental rights guaranteed and protected under Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India.

The matter would be heard next on August 25. 

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