Taking note of an alleged Rs. 40-lakh deal between an accused and a middleman "on behalf of the judge" to let him off in a case, the Punjab and Haryana high court on Monday suspended Faridkot additional district and sessions judge Hemant Gopal for his conduct as special judge of the CBI court, Patiala.
A formal inquiry has been marked against the judge, who was transferred to Faridkot three days prior to his suspension.
Gopal was suspended after a complaint lodged against him by former MLA and Akali leader Mangat Rai Bansal, who in July had submitted a CD and phone call details to the high court showing a middleman "striking a deal" allegedly on behalf of Gopal.
A preliminary inquiry by high court registrar (vigilance) Arun Kumar Tyagi found the prima facie charges against Gopal as "correct" and recommended a full-fledged inquiry. Taking up the matter, the Full Bench of the high court placed Gopal under suspension.
The CD shows middleman Sushil Singla, a law officer with the Punjab government who claims to be related to Gopal, "striking a deal" allegedly on behalf of Gopal with Parminder Singh, an accused in a rice embezzlement case dating back to 1999.
The CD shows Singla collecting a bribe of Rs. 40 lakh allegedly on behalf of Gopal from Parminder, who was later let off. Bansal, also an accused in the case, was sentenced to seven years' rigorous imprisonment (RI).
Parminder had allegedly paid the bribe to Singla at Bansal's residence at the Punjab MLA Flats in Chandigarh. Singla collected the money allegedly on behalf of the judge on April 17; on April 20, Gopal as the CBI judge delivered the judgment in which Bansal, along with 19 others, was sentenced to seven-year RI. Two convicts were sentenced to three years, while Parminder, along with a woman accused, was let off.
Following the complaint, Punjab and Haryana high court registrar (vigilance) Arun Kumar Tyagi had recorded the statement of Bansal by summoning him from the Patiala central jail, where he was lodged.
Bansal told Tyagi how Singla approached four of the accused and started the deal by demanding Rs. 1 crore each from the four rice millers to save them. However, the deal was struck with Parminder, who paid the money to Singla in Bansal's presence.
Singla is seen in the CD collecting the money and assuring that "Parminder will be let off". He even talks to Bansal to "save" him in the case.
Bansal's complaint to the high court reads, "On joining of Hemant Gopal as the CBI judge, his touts started contacting us. But I was sure about the merits of my case, so I didn't give serious thought to such contacts. But on the dates (of hearing) I found the judge was in a hurry and gave a signal for bribe. Sushil Singla (the tout) contacted me and Parminder Singh (accused). Parminder told me that we should buy acquittal. I discussed with Kulwant Rai (another accused) and we decided to expose the corruption by shooting a video of Singla collecting the bribe."
When contacted, Bansal admitted he had given the complaint and the CD against the judge. He said he had full faith in the high court. "I will leave no stone unturned to expose corruption and bring truth to the fore," he said.
'Made a scapegoat'
When contacted, Hemant Gopal denied any link with Singla. "How can you blame a person if someone is collecting money or striking a deal on his behalf? I am being made a scapegoat. I don't know Singla," he said.
However, the phone call details show that Singla had called Gopal on 43 occasions from January 1 to April 8, 2013. When confronted on this, Gopal said he used to call Singla to get books or judgments as Singla was posted in the Legal Remembrance Cell. He said he would submit his statement to the high court during the course of inquiry.