Himachal Pradesh chief minister Virbhadra Singh arrived at the CBI headquarters on Thursday morning to face questioning in a disproportionate assets probe over alleged irregularities, including those linked to an antedated agreement associated with his apple orchard.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has been investigating the chief minister and his wife since last September over allegations related to amassing of disproportionate assets worth Rs 6 crore during his 2009-12 stint as a steel minister in the UPA II government.
Apart from Singh, the CBI is examining his then aide, insurance agent Anand Chauhan, for allegedly trying to ‘camouflage’ the money as proceeds of agricultural income – not taxed in India – from Singh’s 105 bigha apple orchard ‘Shrikhand’, located in the state.
The money was used to allegedly purchase 19 insurance policies -- via Chauhan -- in the names of Singh, his wife, and his children. Singh later revised his Income Tax returns for the three years, allegedly attributing a huge jump in income to the orchard’s higher sales.
The CBI suspects the authenticity of these sale receipts and a June 2008 Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) concluded between Singh and Chauhan as a result of which the orchard’s upkeep was entrusted to the latter.
Dismissing the CBI allegations, the chief minister had earlier claimed this was a case of political vendetta by the NDA government that was conspiring to destabilise his government.
After registering the case last September, the CBI is questioning Singh for the first time. The agency had however taken his version in the Preliminary Enquiry that preceded the filing of the regular case.
“The June 2008 Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) comprised of a stamp paper and a few pages of judicial papers, which were antedated,” said a CBI source on condition of anonymity.
An antedated contract is one where the date of the contract is prior to the date on which the agreement was actually drawn up.
The MoU between Singh and Chauhan was for managing the maintenance and sale proceeds of the orchard, with a 2% commission on the sale proceeds.
The CBI, which suspects the authenticity of the photocopy provided, is yet to receive the original MoU document. A Rs 5 stamp paper that was part of the memorandum had allegedly not been sold to the accused, raising doubts over its veracity.
Singh and Chauhan could not be reached for comment but they had earlier denied any wrongdoing. Rejecting the allegations as baseless, one of Singh’s aides said, “If the CBI thinks the MoU’s stamp paper is irregular, the vendor should answer the agency’s queries.”
The Delhi high court had earlier asked Singh to “join” the probe and told the CBI that he could not be arrested without the court’s consent.
As part of a separate money-laundering probe, the Enforcement Directorate had earlier moved to attach assets worth around Rs 8 crore belonging to Singh and his family.