Padma Bhushan to Chatwal: US court sentence to rake up controversy again
Following a US court sentence to 70-year-old Sikh business tycoon Sant Singh Chatwal in a campaign contribution fraud, fresh questions are likely to be raised over the Padma Bhushan conferred on him by the government of India in 2010.
The hotelier from Punjab is among the richest businessmen in USA. A federal judge of New York had, on Thursday, sentenced Chatwal to three-year probation and a $5,00,000 (about `32 lakh) fine in the illegal election donation case, sparing him a prison term.
Known for his association with former US President Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary Clinton, Chatwal had, in April this year, pleaded guilty to violating the Federal Election Campaign Act and witness tampering.
Chatwal's sentence is now expected to rake up the Padma Bhushan controversy again. Chatwal was awarded the Padma Bhushan in January 2010 by former President Pratibha Patil in the UPA regime. Even then, the government's decision had led to a protracted controversy following allegations that Chatwal was facing CBI cases in India.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had vehemently opposed the move. Gopinath Munde, the then deputy leader of the BJP in the Lok Sabha, had written to the President and Prime Minister, expressing BJP's "disapproval". Munde had pointed out that Chatwal's controversial financial dealings made him undeserving of the honour.
The Dr Manmohan Singh-led UPA government however stuck to its ground. A statement was issued by the ministry of home affairs stating that Chatwal was a "tireless advocate of India's interests in USA" and there was "nothing adverse on record" against him.
The government insisted that "due diligence" had been observed before choosing him for the honour.
The government went on to clarify that the CBI had registered five cases against Chatwal, three out of which were closed by the body. The court had discharged Chatwal in the two cases in which chargesheets were filed against him by the CBI.
In May 2010, the New Delhi high court dismissed a petition challenging the government's decision to confer the Padma Bhushan on Chatwal.
The Sikh hotelier was the recipient of the Rajiv Gandhi Award in 2005 and was honoured with the 'Order of the Khalsa' by the government of Punjab in 1999.