Top criminal lawyer Saraogi in custody for aiding Raigad land grab
As long as there is crime (and that'll be forever), there will be a prime place in society for a skilled criminal lawyer. Even dreaded gangsters have surrendered to the police after assurances by their criminal lawyers that they'll have their full support in a legal battle.
But what if that criminal lawyer himself is arrested for cheating and forgery, allegedly committed to help a high-profile client?
That's exactly what has happened to Mumbai's most celebrated criminal lawyer Ashok Saraogi, and his two associates.
How the mighty fall
Saraogi's clientele is testimony enough to his legal skills. He was Abu Salem's representative in the Pradeep Jain murder case, and is currently representing Rahul Raj Singh, the boyfriend of TV star Pratyusha Banerjee, in her suicide case.
But all that has gone out of the window after Saraogi, along with associates Sohel Kazi and Ivy Jacob Tauro, surrendered to the police on Sunday. The trio was remanded to police custody on charges of aiding a high-profile land grab in the Raigad district of Maharashtra.
Saraogi was remanded to police custody till 25 April, while the associated have been sent into custody for three days each.
The top lawyer had been trying hard for anticipatory bail in the case, and had even moved the Supreme Court for this, after the Mumbai Sessions Court and the Bombay High Court had rejected his pleas. However, he withdrew his plea and surrendered to the Azad Maidan Police Station in Mumbai on Sunday.
Details of the case
Saraogi is accused of helping Mumbai-based businessman Ashish Bagaria and his father Santosh Kumar Bagaria in grabbing nine land parcels in Raigad, using forged backdated documents. The land, worth crores of rupees, belonged to Ashish's estranged wife Nickee.
She had filed a case against the Bagarias, accusing them of forging a Memorandum of Understanding with one of their relatives, Vinod Jhunjhunwala, for acquisition of the land in question.
She had alleged that the father-son duo forged the MoU to facilitate the deal, which she claimed was done without her knowledge.
It was during the course of a hearing on matter, after sustained questioning by the court, that the Bagarias confessed that they had paid Rs 5 lakh to Saraogi to create fake backdated documentary evidence to strengthen their case.
This was done to conceal the fact that Nickee had revoked the power of attorney given to the Bagarias in 2014.
The forged MoU prepared by Saraogi, at the behest of Bagarias, stated that the land in question was jointly owned by them and Jhunjhunwala, and the land was transferred to the latter against the loan of Rs 92 lakh, with another Rs 1 crore to be paid to Jhunjhunwala after the land was sold.
According to the forged MoU, Advocate Sohel Kazi would be the sole arbitrator, should any dispute arise between Bagaria and Jhunjhunwala.
It was also alleged that Kazi signed a backdated arbitration award on 9 June 2014.
The award said the land would be transferred to Jhunjhunwala due to a dispute in the partnership, if the Bagarias and Nickee fail to pay the former a sum of Rs 1.92 crore within a month.
It was alleged that Advocate Tauro wrote a letter to the office of the Tehsildar, Raigad, informing about the arbitration award.
It was through a letter from the office of the Tehsildar, asking about the development, that Nickee came to know about the matter. Following this, she sued the Bagarias in January 2015, alleging cheating and forgery with the involvement of senior lawyers of the Bombay High Court.
Given the seriousness of the allegations, Justice JS Kathawalla ordered an inquiry into the matter by an IPS officer.
Inquiry and FIR
The inquiry proved the involvement of Saraogi, Kazi and Tauro in forgery and cheating.
Following the inquiry, an FIR was registered against the trio in 19 October 2015, after which, Saraogi immediately moved an anticipatory bail application at Bombay High Court.
Rejecting his anticipatory bail application, Justice AS Gadkari observed that Saraogi had exploited the judicial system for financial gains. Justice Gadkari, in the order, had opined that a thorough investigation of the complaint lodged against Saraogi and two others was crucial to unearth the truth.
Legal fraternity shocked
The arrest has come as shock to the legal fraternity of the Bombay High Court. A senior counsel at Bombay High Court, who did not wish to be named, said: "This is pathetic. The crime committed by one lawyer has brought a bad name to the entire fraternity. People will not have faith in the judicial officers in future."
Another lawyer said: "This is not the only incident of such corruption. Such malpractices are rampant at Bombay High Court, wherein several junior and senior lawyers are hand-in-glove with even judges, in some cases. There are people who want to fight judicial corruption and have even tried to file PILs against it. The irony is that no judge has courage to admit the PIL and hear it."