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Prashant Bhushan: There's already more evidence in Sahara & Birla papers than in Jain hawala dairies

Sadiq Naqvi | Updated on: Fri, 10 Feb 2017 01:36:00 IST

The Supreme Court has refused to order an investigation into the documents recovered during raids at the offices of Aditya Birla Group and Sahara saying they are not authentic or credible enough.

Some of the documents purportedly mention bribes paid by these companies to a number of politicians, including Narendra Modi, Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Sheila Dikshit, among others .

The bench of Justices JS Khehar and Arun Mishra told the petitioner, the NGO Common Cause, that ordering an investigation merely on the basis of an unverified entry in a document could have far-reaching implications.

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"If we accept what you say, then somebody can make an entry that I sent PM this much of money... See how far-reaching this could be. We are not shying away from taking action against anybody but you must have something even prima facie to show wrongdoing. We cannot initiate proceedings just because you name a big man. There has to be something," the court said, according to a media report. The petitioners have asked for more time to submit additional evidence.

In this conversation with Catch, lawyer and activist Prashant Bhushan, who is associated with Common Cause, insists they have additional documentary evidence which they will submit at the next hearing. He, however, maintains that the evidence already submitted to the court should have been enough for it to order a probe. Excerpts from the conversation.

The Supreme Court has asked you to submit for more evidence before they could order a probe into the Sahara and Birla papers. How do you see this order?

I don't think they properly understood the nature of the evidence we have already submitted. Because they are saying that anybody can write these things, how are you sure who wrote them, etc? They have seen some of the other documents we have filed. It was clear from the appraisal report of the Birla case that the persons who have written those notes about the payments were examined by the Income Tax department and they admitted that they had made those payments. That they were receiving large amounts from Hawala dealers in cash and making those cash payments to various public servants on the instructions of group president Shubhendu Amitabh.

Shubhendu has also admitted during his interrogation that the page where he mentions "25 crore paid to Gujarat CM, 12 paid, rest?" was indeed from his computer.

He, however, says that Gujarat CM refers to Gujarat Alkalies and Chemicals. When he was asked what 'C' and 'M' stood for, he couldn't answer and said it was his personal note. There was considerable evidence at least in the Birla case which the I-T officials had themselves gathered and which showed that the persons who made the payments admitted to making them. Now it was just a matter of further investigation into telephone call records etc.

Some of the pages we had filed were original pages and they were not very legible, so the court asked us to file more legible copies. We will file typed copies of the same so that it is clearly legible.

But was any payment actually made to Gujarat Alkalies and Chemicals as Shubhendu Amitabh claimed? Is there evidence of it?

It was never investigated. That is why an investigation is required now.

What about the Sahara papers?

The Sahara papers are essentially handwritten notes or computer spreadsheets. When these spreadsheets were recovered they were signed by the Income Tax officer, an officer from Sahara and two witnesses. Each page is signed by these four people. The spreadsheets have details of cash received, dates on which different amounts of cash were received, and from what sources they were received. The total comes to Rs 115 crore.

Then, cash payments, dates of payment, place of payment, the people whom it was paid to, the amounts paid, and the persons who carried the money - all these details are mentioned in that spreadsheet. And there are more than 50 entries in that spreadsheet, totalling Rs 113 crore.

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Normally, nobody would fabricate such a spreadsheet, which apparently came from the computer of a very senior officer in the personal staff of Subroto Roy. The persons who are mentioned as carriers of payments are known to be or have been found to be employees of Sahara, and they were working under this senior official in Subroto Roy's staff.

There was more than adequate prima facie evidence to suggest that some payments were indeed made to various public servants. Now, again it is a matter of further investigation.

Subroto Roy has been in and out of jail. He could have fabricated this diary to put pressure on the government.

These documents were recovered during a raid in November 2014. I don't think he was in jail at that time. The point is why would Sahara's people, whose handwritten notes these are or from whose computers the documents were recovered, implicate themselves? Because they are saying that they went and made these payments. These documents are incriminatory to the persons who have prepared these documents.

How does the nature of the evidence in the Birla and Sahara papers compare with that in the Jain hawala case, which had led to an enquiry?

In the Jain hawala case, the diaries found contained only the initials of various people and the amounts paid. The initials matched the names of public servants, ministers and former ministers. That was found by the Supreme Court to be sufficient for a thorough investigation to find out whether this really represented the payments made to those public servants. In this case, we have far more evidence. In the Birla case, these people admitted that they made those payments. They said they were getting the money from Hawala Angriya dealers, the cash was kept in a certain place, and then the payments were made on the instructions of group president Shubhendu Amitabh. The names of officers who made the payments are also there. And Shubhendu has admitted that he made that note.

Will you submit additional evidence at the next hearing since the court is not convinced?

Yes, we will file legible copies of the documents we have already filed and additional papers that suggest that all these people were actual employees of Sahara, and some other documents as well. Hopefully, at the next hearing, the court will understand that there is already much more evidence in this case than there was in the Jain hawala case, where the SC ruled that it required a proper court-monitored independent investigation.

The papers purportedly mentioned leaders from across the political spectrum. Is that why political parties are not enthusiastic about this case?

Yes, that could be one of the reasons. There are people from the Congress, from the BJP who are named. But there are several parties whose people do not figure in these papers. There is no mention of anybody the Left parties, the TMC, the JD(U) as far as I know.

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First published: 27 November 2016, 9:13 IST