Mumbai court acquits Maharashtra CMO accountant of forging travel bills after 25 years
Twenty five years after he was charged for cheating and forging of travel allowance bills in the names of his colleagues, a metropolitan magistrate court on Monday acquitted an accountant working in the chief minister’s office (CMO). The court, observed that the prosecution had “miserably failed” to prove the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt.
Several personal assistants (PA) and personal secretaries (PS) to the chief minister (CM) had deposed as witnesses, but did not support the prosecution case.
The case was registered in 1996 by Sadashiv Bhatkhande, the then joint director in the funds and accounts department of CMO. The accused, Vinayak Damle, used to work as an accountant and prepare all the travel allowance (TA) bills of CM’s personal secretaries.
It was alleged that TA bills of ₹62,540 and ₹32,498 of two particular personal secretaries were submitted and shown as received by them. However, both had claimed that they had not received the money and that somebody might have committed a fraud, after which a case was registered.
It was alleged after the investigation that the accused had submitted fake travel programme and misappropriated an amount of ₹95,038. The Cuffe Parade police further learnt that the accused had also submitted separate false TA bills of ₹12,326, ₹23,363, ₹82,925, ₹7,480 and ₹24,705 in the name of some other CMO staffers and misappropriated a total amount of ₹3.45 lakh.
Damle was charged in 2003 for cheating, forgery and criminal breach of trust. He had pleaded not guilty and requested that he be tried.
The counsel for the accused argued that the very basic documentary proof the original documents have not been brought on record by the prosecution, in the absence of which Damle cannot be connected with the alleged crime. According to the counsel, “The prosecution has failed to prove the very fact that the accused was entrusted with the job of sanctioning TA bills. They have also not proved that it was the accused who had prepared false bills and withdrawn the money. The prosecution has not obtained the signature of the accused to verify with the handwriting expert. The prosecution witnesses – CMO staffers – did not support the prosecution.”
The court had found that the chief examination of informant had taken place in 2007. In 2010, he had failed to come for cross-examination and later it was informed to the court that the informant had died. The accused had lost his opportunity to cross-examine the informant, that too for no fault of his, after which the court had refused to consider his evidence, as mere chief examination had taken place.
Two personal secretaries of the then CM, whose TA bills were allegedly forged by the accused, also appeared before the court as witnesses. However, they did not support the prosecution. They further told the court that there were several clerks who had prepared TA bills, and whatever they had come to know about their bills also been forged, it was through the late informant. The investigating officer also admitted certain lacunas and prejudices in the entire probe. He admitted that the informant had not given him important documents at the time of lodging a first information report (FIR). He also admitted that he had not taken the specimen signature of the accused to match it with the forged bills.
Metropolitan magistrate A V Kulkarni of the Esplanade Court observed that there are several lacunas in the entire investigation, which is based upon “hearsay evidence”. The investigation officer even went to the extent of admitting the fact that whatever is his conclusion about the alleged fraud in the instances of the accused is only based upon the information extended by the informant, the magistrate observed.
The court further said that another investigating officer had accepted all the probe was carried as per the information given by the informant. He also accepted that every PAs and PSs of CM prepared their TA bills through their assistants.
Judge Kulkarni observed in a detailed judgment that none of the witness possessed direct knowledge of the crime. Merely because the alleged misappropriation took place during the span of the service of the accused, it cannot be concluded automatically that the accused was responsible for the alleged preparation of forged bills and misappropriation, the judge observed.