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Cash, lies & videotapes

Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, and a top aide have got unusual deliveries in their offices: five secret videotapes and heaps of cash. A report by Saroj Nagi.

india Updated: Jul 23, 2008 23:58 IST
Saroj Nagi

Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, and a top aide have got unusual deliveries in their offices: five secret videotapes and heaps of cash.

The videotapes, at the heart of India’s most serious bribes-for-votes allegations in 15 years, were delivered to Chatterjee’s office on Wednesday. The bundles of 1,000-rupee notes totalling Rs 1 crore, allegedly given as bribes to MPs to help the government win a trust vote, have been locked up in a Lok Sabha vault.

The government has said it is open to an investigation. The BJP said it planned to file a formal complaint with the Speaker on Thursday on behalf of their three MPs.

Experts say there are two legal aspects to the episode. One is the alleged criminal offence of bribery, which the police have the power to investigate, not the Speaker. The other relates to breach of privilege issues — the MPs can claim that the alleged bribes prevented them from doing their duty, while they can also be held responsible for lowering the dignity of the House by their dramatic actions.

The MPs — Ashok Argal, Mahavir Bhagora and Faggan Singh Kulaste — specifically named SP leader Amar Singh and Congress’s Ahmed Patel as having sent the money, purportedly the advance payment for a total payout of Rs 3 crore each for each of the three MPs.

Both leaders have dismissed the allegation, demanding proof.

That proof, the Opposition says, is in the secretly-filmed videotapes of CNN-IBN news channel, which said it was investigating the story but has not aired it yet, instead giving copies to Chatterjee.

“We have handed to the Speaker’s office all raw footage collected by us in the course of investigation into allegations of horse trading,” said CNN-IBN head Rajdeep Sardesai, who met the Speaker on Wednesday.

It is unclear what the footage contains.

The cash is now in the custody of Lok Sabha Secretary-General PDT Achary, whose office holds all documents tabled in the House — a practice that would not have accounted for crisp currency notes.

The money — in 10 bundles of 1000-rupee denominations valued at Rs 10 lakh each — was sealed in the locker in the presence of the three BJP MPs. It can now be examined only after a decision is taken by Chatterjee on what to do with it. The Speaker has also sought the opinion of the Law Ministry.

The Speaker is expected to decide on the nature of investigation only after receiving a formal complaint. “We will file a complaint tomorrow and also submit copies of the FIRs that have been lodged,’’ said V.K. Malhotra, BJP’s leader.