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Arrested journalist Vinod Verma: Being framed as I handle Cong social media campaign in Chhattisgarh  

FIR filed by Prakash Bajaj alleges he had been receiving numerous calls in which Verma blackmailed and threatened him over alleged sex video of a Chhattisgarh minister.

india Updated: Oct 27, 2017 18:35 IST
Peeyush Khandelwal
Peeyush Khandelwal
Hindustan Times, Ghaziabad
Vinod Verma,Journalist,Ghaziabad
Senior journalist Vinod Verma was arrested on extortion charges by the Chhattisgarh Police on Friday morning.(Twitter)

The arrest of former BBC journalist Vinod Vermaby the Chhattisgarh police from his residence in Indirapuram in Ghaziabad early Friday on allegations of attempted extortion on the basis of an alleged sex CD involving a Chhattisgarh minister has snowballed into a slugfest between the BJP and the Congress.

Verma, sent on transit remand by a Ghaziabad court, was allegedly in possession of a CD showing the minister in a compromising position with a woman, police said. Verma, a member of the Editors’ Guild of India, has formerly worked for BBC and Amar Ujala.

The journalist who has been booked under sections 384 and 506 of the Indian penal code (IPC) for extortion and intimidation, rubbished the police’s claims that he had a sex CD.

“Someone gave me a 1 minute 31 seconds clip on a pen drive on October 24 and as a back-up I saved it on my laptop…. The police have planted the CD on me. It is a political conspiracy of framing me in a false case and arresting me since I am looking after the social media campaign of Congress Party in Chhattisgarh. ,” Vinod Verma told Hindustan Times.

Rajesh Munat, Chhatisgarh PWD minister in the eye of the storm, said the video is fake.

“The sex CD is fake. I appeal to the CM to get this investigated from any agency. I condemn this,” ANI quoted Munat as saying.

Verma’s arrest barely 12 hours after a complaint was lodged at the Pandari police station in Chhatisgarh’s Raipur district by the BJP’s state working committee member Prakash Bajaj on Thursday, drew fire from the Congress.

Chhattisgarh state Congress president, Bhupesh Baghel told HT on phone from Raipur that Verma had been training Congress workers on social media for about a year as a consultant. He also admitted that Verma was his distant relative.

“The clipping shows a powerful minister in compromising position with a woman. The clip is clear and the police must find out who the persons are. The clips have been circulated on social media for nearly a month now. Initially, the clips came in duration of 16 seconds or so and late of around 1.30 minutes,” Baghel told HT.

“Since the clip is on social media, it is available with everyone, including me and maybe with Verma. Why only Verma is targeted in such a case? He is a senior journalist and has never been into any such activities like extortion as alleged. We know who is there in the clip but police must find out and get forensic examination done. We condemn Verma’s arrest,” he added.

He added that the arrest came even before he could get the clip verified through a forensic lab and would have released it after examination confirmed it to be genuine. Baghel also claimed that Bajaj is associated with the social media cell of the BJP in Chhattisgarh.

“The team of Chhattisgarh police raided Verma’s residence around 3.30am on Friday and claimed recoveries of nearly 500 CDs containing pornographic material,” police officers from Indirapuram in Ghaziabad said on condition of anonymity.

The officials confirmed the arrest made by the team from Chattisgarh and said that Verma will be taken to Ghaziabad court where he will be produced before a magistrate for obtaining a transit remand to take him back to Chattisgarh.

“There were nine people who arrived in civil clothes and forced us to open the main door of the flat. They said they wanted to carry out a search. Once they entered, they searched every room and took possession of my husband’s mobile phones, his laptop and bag. Later, they said that he is being taken to Indirapuram police station for questioning,” said Verma’s wife.

“It is utterly disgraceful that police arrived without any documents and did not allow us to speak. The police from Ghaziabad and Chhattisgarh came with society’s guard and walked away taking my husband,” she added.

Hours after Verma’s arrest, Chhattisgarh’s Inspector General of Police, Pradeep Gupta addressed reporters in Raipur.

“An FIR was registered on 2pm yesterday. The FIR did not name Vinod Verma as accused. But the CDs have been found in possession of Verma. We are obtaining his remand to bring him to Raipur,” the officer said.

“Prakash Bajaj gave us a complaint claiming that someone called his landline number and threatened him to release a pornographic CD of his boss,” Gupta said.

The call was traced to the shop in Delhi which was raided. Verma is said to have ordered the reprints of the CD, Gupta said.

“We don’t know whether the call was made by Verma or someone else. It is a matter of further investigation,” Gupta said in the press conference.

The sources added that Verma and two other journalists, in March, 2016, were also members of a fact finding committee to assess the arrests of journalists in Chhattisgarh and challenges faced by them in the state.

Former journalist and AAP leader, Ashutosh, termed it as attack on press and tweeted from his twitter handle @ashutosh83B, “Vinod Verma Ex BBC n Amar Ujala Digital Editor has been picked up most mysteriously by UP N Chhatttisgarh Police 3.30am. Attack on press?”

Replying to the Ashutosh, @Uppolice (Uttar Pradesh police) tweeted, “@ashutosh83B-He’s arrested by Chattisgarh police in a case of extortion registered at P.S.Pandri, distt Raipur.(Cr no 340/17,U/S 384 506 IPC).”

After the backlash following Verma’s arrest, BJP spokesperson in Chhattisgarh Shrichand Sundarni refuted at the claims about the alleged CD and accused the Congress of conspiracy.

“These controversies do not affect BJP. The party is ready for any probe into the matter,” Sundarani said.

Bajaj was unavailable for comment when HT tried to contact him.

(With inputs from Ritesh Mishra in Raipur and ANI)

First Published: Oct 27, 2017 14:06 IST