Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh was today granted exemption from personal appearance by a special court till the conclusion of the arguments on charge in a Rs 10 crore disproportionate assets case against him. Special Judge Santosh Snehi Mann also granted the relief to Singh’s wife Pratibha Singh, a co-accused in the case. However, the couple, who were today present before the court, will have to appear whenever directed by the court, the judge said. In their applications, moved through senior advocates Rebecca John and Ramesh Gupta, 83-year-old Virbhadra Singh and 62-year-old Pratibha Singh had sought permanent exemption from personal appearance citing their advanced age and ailments and had submitted they were not permanent residents of Delhi. “His identity is not disputed. He is the chief minister of a state and he has various duties to perform. Meanwhile, he will be represented by his advocate on every date,” the application moved for the politician said.
Public prosecutor Manoj Shukla, appearing for the probe agency, opposed their applications. “On the one hand, you (Virbhadra) say you are ailing and on the other you are running an entire state, addressing several public meetings in a day,” he said. Shukla said that being a chief minister was not a ground for the permanent exemption, while citing example of Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal who was reportedly denied similar relief. The court posted the matter for further hearing on January 18. The couple, who have not been arrested so far, and other accused persons are facing trial in the case. The others are Universal Apple Associate owner Chunni Lal Chauhan, stamp paper vendor Joginder Singh Ghalta, Managing Director of Tarani Infrastructure Vakamulla Chandrasekhar, and co-accused Lawan Kumar Roach, Prem Raj and Ram Prakash Bhatia.
The charge sheet also names as accused LIC agent Anand Chauhan, who was arrested in a separate money laundering case filed by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in relation to the present matter and is currently in judicial custody. Chauhan was arrested by the ED on July 9 last year in a separate money laundering case related to the disproportionate assets case. The court had on May 8 summoned them after taking cognisance of the charge sheet filed by the CBI. The CBI charge sheet, running into over 500 pages having statements of around 225 witnesses and containing 442 documents, has claimed that Singh had amassed assets worth around Rs 10 crore which were disproportionate to his total income during his tenure as a Union minister.
The matter was transferred by the Supreme Court to the Delhi High Court, which on April 6, 2016, had asked the CBI not to arrest Singh and directed him to join the probe. On November 5 last year, the apex court had transferred Singh’s plea from the Himachal Pradesh High Court to the Delhi High Court, saying it was not expressing any opinion on the merits of the case, but “simply” transferring the petition “in the interest of justice and to save the institution (judiciary) from any embarrassment”.