Bombay HC grants interim protection to Somaiya in INS Vikrant fund misuse case
The FIR has been registered at Trombay police station on the basis of an ex-serviceman, who had contributed ₹2,000 for saving INS Vikrant.
Two days after the Mumbai sessions court rejected his anticipatory bail plea, the Bombay high court on Wednesday granted BJP leader Kirit Somaiya interim protection from arrest in connection with the cheating case registered against him and his son Neil for allegedly misappropriating funds collected for saving INS Vikrant from being scrapped and converting India’s first aircraft carrier into a museum.
“The FIR indicates that allegations are mainly based on media reports. Though there is specific allegation of misappropriation of ₹57 crore, there is no material on record to indicate on what basis the complainant has arrived at the said figure,” said a single judge bench of Justice Anuja Prabhudessai.
The bench granted interim relief to the former MP, noting that the money was allegedly collected in 2013, but the FIR was registered last week – after about nine years and the complaint was vague and there was no material on record to indicate on what basis the complainant arrived at the figure of ₹57 crore.
The bench ordered that in the event of arrest, Somaiya be released on a personal bond of ₹50,000. The court also directed the BJP leader to report to the investigating officer on April 18 between 11 am to 2 pm. The court then posted his application for pre-arrest bail for further hearing on April 28 with direction to the Trombay police to submit a report indicating progress in their investigation.
The FIR has been registered at Trombay police station on the basis of an ex-serviceman, who had contributed ₹2,000 for saving INS Vikrant. He alleged that Somaiya and his son had collected funds by setting up donation boxes at various locations across the city, but did not deposit the amount so collected with the Governor of Maharashtra or the government.
Somaiya’s counsel, senior advocate Ashok Mundargi, submitted that the amount collected in the Save Vikrant drive conducted outside Churchgate railway station on December 10, 2013 had garnered only ₹11,224. However, after a political leader (Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut) mentioned the figure of ₹57 crore in his press briefings, the same came to be reflected in the FIR registered the next day – on April 7.
After the judge sought to know from Mundargi whether the amount of Rs. 11,224 collected outside Churchgate station was deposited with the governor’s office, Mundargi submitted that as there was no response from the Governor, the money must be lying in the party coffers or with some party worker. Mundargi added that as Somaiya was MP at that time, he had not taken custody of the amount collected.
Senior advocate Shirish Gupte for the state opposed Somaiya’s application and submitted that his custodial interrogation was necessary to ascertain the exact amount misappropriated, as several drives were conducted by the father-son duo along with others in the city.
Gupte further informed the bench that Somaiya was not cooperating with the investigation though the police had followed proper procedure of issuing him notice under section 41A of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC).
In his client’s defence Mundargi submitted that though the notice was received however in view of news reports he apprehended that he would be taken into custody without being given an opportunity to be heard.
During the course of hearing Mundargi also informed the court that the pre-arrest bail plea of Neil Somaiya was yet to be filed in the high court. His plea was rejected by the sessions court on Tuesday.