Himachal Pradesh chief minister Virbhadra Singh will likely be questioned this week in a disproportionate assets probe over alleged irregularities, including those linked to an antedated agreement with an aide for managing his apple orchard.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has been investigating the chief minister and his wife since last September over concerns of alleged 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 looking into his aide, insurance agent Anand Chauhan for allegedly trying to ‘camouflage’ the money as proceeds of agricultural income – not taxed in India – from his 105 bigha apple orchard ‘Shrikhand’, located in the state.
The money was used to 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.
“The June 2008 Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) comprised of a stamp paper and a few pages of judicial papers, which were antedated. The judicial papers were released from a Himchal Pradesh printing press three months later, in September 2008,” said a CBI source on the 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 had earlier denied any wrongdoing. Rejecting the allegations as baseless, one of Singh’s aides said, “If there is any doubt about the MoU’s stamp paper, the CBI should confront the vendor.”
As part of a separate money-laundering probe, the Enforcement Directorate had recently moved to attach assets worth around Rs 8 crore belonging to Singh and his family.
The agency’s initial plan to question the chief minister on Monday was shelved as the investigating officer was not available that day. “CBI will question the CM on another date, to seek his clarifications about issues linked to the unaccounted assets,” said the source.
The Delhi High Court recently asked Singh to “join” the probe and told the CBI that he could not be arrested without the court’s consent. Singh said he would willingly cooperate so long as he and his wife were not arrested during the investigation.
Dismissing the allegations, the chief minister earlier claimed this was a case of political vendetta by the NDA government that was conspiring to destabilise his government.