Railway Minister Lalu Prasad and former chief minister Rabri Devi got a major relief on Monday when the special designated court of the CBI in Patna acquitted them in the Disproportionate Assets case (RC 5 (A)/98), filed by the CBI in 1998.
Special Judge Munni Lal Paswan pronounced the verdict in a jam-packed court at exactly 11.04 am, minutes after the proceedings of the day began.
The one line judgement said, "The court acquits Lalu Prasad and Rabri Devi of all the charges in the case".
As soon as the judgement was out, Lalu and Rabri walked out of the court even as hundreds of lawyers, newsmen and party supporters almost mobbed them.
A visibly happy Lalu, in his first reaction outside the court, said, "We have got justice from court. We have full faith in the judiciary. The verdict has reinforced my faith in the judiciary." Rabri was also of the same view. "We are very happy. We always had faith in the judiciary," she said.
The DA case relates to the assets worth Rs 46,26,820 lakh allegedly amassed by Lalu beyond known sources of his income. Rabri was made a co-accused in the case later for abetting her husband in the crime.
The CBI had charged Rabri with helping her husband in amassing the property disproportionate to his income when Lalu was the chief minister of Bihar from 1990 to 1997. While Lalu was charged under section 5(1) (E) and 13 (1) (e) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, Rabri was charged under section 109 of IPC.
The CBI, for the first time, raided the official residence of the chief minister in connection with this case.
But before the judgement came, there was tension and nervousness writ large in the faces of Lalu and Rabri, who reached the court exactly at 10.40 am. As soon as they alighted from the car, a battery of newsmen went almost berserk, urging Lalu to give a precious sound byte but the railway minister and his wife did not oblige. They moved straight towards the staircase leading to the special CBI court on the first floor of the Patna Civil Court.
For the duo, the special CBI court was no unfamiliar ground as they have in the last six years paid a number of visits to the place. This was the same place from where in April 2000, Lalu was sent to jail after the CBI filed the chargesheet.
The RJD chief had been in incarceration for over a month before he was granted provisional bail in the DA case from the Patna High Court on May 10, 2000. Today, it was the day of verdict and not only Lalu and Rabri but the defence and prosecution lawyers were all anxious to hear it. The verdict could have wider political ramifications both in the state and at national level.
As the clock ticked, the suspense mounted and everyone waited with bated breath. At exactly 11 am, the judge entered the courtroom and at 11.04 am the verdict was out.
Meanwhile, CBI counsel LR Ansari when asked about the judgement, said he would not like to comment on it. Asked whether the agency would go for an appeal against the judgement, he said the agency would first examine the judgement and then take a decision.
It has 90 days to appeal. The acquittal of the RJD chief has come as a big relief to the UPA government at the Centre, which is under attack on the tainted ministers issue.
During the trial, the CBI, which registered the case against Lalu on August 19, 1998, stuck to its charge that he had accumulated assets of over Rs 46 lakh disproportionate to his known sources of income between March 1990 and March 1997 as Bihar chief minister. The defence argued that the assets were all accounted for.
While 94 witnesses, including Brigadier RP Nautial, ex-director general of CRPF AP Dorai and former speaker late Radhanandan Jha, were presented for the defence, a total of 132 people, including former CBI SP of Patna, VSK Kaumudi, deposed for the prosecution. The FIR in the case was registered by Kaumudi under the Prevention of Corruption Act.