A Delhi court handed down a three-year prison term to former communications minister Sukh Ram on Wednesday for amassing disproportionate assets worth Rs 4.25 crore during his tenure in the P.V. Narasimha Rao-led government during 1991-96.
Special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) judge V.K. Maheshwari said while delivering the verdict, “Prosecution has proved that the convict has accumulated assets beyond his known sources of income, acquisition of which he could not satisfactorily explain.”
But Sukh Ram told HT, “I was falsely implicated in the case to stop me from pursuing my political aspirations. I have full faith in the judiciary that one day I will be free from these allegations. I am willing to contest the coming elections.”
Sukh Ram will not land behind bars immediately as the trial court granted him bail till April 23 soon after pronouncing the punishment. The court also imposed a fine of Rs 2 lakh and ordered the forfeiture of his illegal assets.
Sukh Ram’s lawyer S.P. Minocha said he will decide on filing an appeal in the high court after going through the judgement. The court upheld the prosecution’s argument stating that former Prime Minister Rao had testified in November 2004 as a witness at his residence in New Delhi in the case against his one-time Cabinet colleague Sukh Ram.
Sukh Ram had contended that the cash was meant for the Congress party fund, but senior Congress leaders refuted his claim.
CBI counsel Gurdial Singh said, “Rao, in his statement, had made it very clear that the money recovered from Sukh Ram cannot be party funds, as no one was entitled to keep party funds and that only the party treasurer could collect money for the party and he, too, had to deposit it in the party’s bank account.”
Meanwhile, former CBI director Joginder Singh during whose tenure the investigating agency had searched Sukh Ram’s house said on Wednesday that although he expected a harsher punishment, conviction of a former minister in a disproportionate assets case might set an example.
Asked whether any pressure was exerted on him, Singh said, “No one pressured me except few friends, who asked me to beware as politicians may hit back at me. During the investigations, Sukh Ram tried to meet me for several times, but I refused.”
With inputs from PTI