The two-decade-old palm oil case took a new turn on Saturday after vigilance special judge PK Haneefa recused himself from the case saying there were 'personal attacks' against him while discharging his duty.
The judge had passed an order on Aug 8 to investigate the role of chief minister Oommen Chandy in the case inviting sharp criticism from many quarters. Ruling front (UDF) chief whip PC George has even dubbed him a 'leftist' and questioned his 'legal credentials'.
"I discharged my duty with high integrity. But there were personal attacks against me through media. At this juncture it is not fair on my part to continue with the trial," the judge said. He has requested the high court to transfer the case to some other courts.
Last month the judge had ordered a probe against Chandy, who was the finance minister when the deal to import palm oil was signed in early 90s, after rejecting a report filed by the state vigilance department that there was no ground for further investigation.
Opposition CPM has criticized the latest development. "It is sad the judge has been hounded out. Congress Party owes an explanation," opposition leader VS Achuthanandan, who has been pursuing the case vigorously for two decades, said. However the CM said no one had said anything against the judge. "I openly said I have no complaint. I made it clear that P C George made his observations in his personal capacity," he said.
Similarly on Friday justice NK Balakrishnan of the Kerala high court had recused himself from hearing a petition filed by senior IAS officer Jiji Thomson, fifth accused in the case. He contended that under Section 173 (8) of the CrPC the vigilance court had no power to order a further investigation into the case.
One of the oldest graft cases palm oil case dates back to 1991-92. The Kerala government faced with an acute edible oil shortage imported 15,000 tonne of palm oil through Malaysis-based Power and Energy Limited. The state reportedly lost Rs 2.32 crore in the deal which violated the guidelines of the state trading corporation.
The long-pending corruption case had cost former CVC PJ Thomas, eighth accused, his job. He was the state food secretary when the deal was signed. The Supreme Court had quashed his appointment after it found that a corruption case is pending against him in Kerala.
After the death of former chief minister K Karunakaran, the first accused, the Supreme Court had vacated the stay granted to him on January 11. The case came to limelight again after TH Mustafa, then food minister and second accused, submitted a discharge plea in the court saying he should get the same treatment given to Chandy. Since it was a cabinet decision it was a collective decision and all members of the cabinet were equally responsible for it, he pleaded.
The previous LDF government soon moved the court saying more people were involved in the scam and wanted to probe Chandy’s role.