MUMBAI: A special CBI court today discharged senior BJP leader and Rajasthan's former Home Minister Gulabchand Kataria and marble trader Vimal Patni from the Sohrabuddin Sheikh and Tulsiram Prajapati fake encounter killing cases, citing "insufficient" evidence.
"There is no sufficient ground to proceed against the accused," special CBI judge MB Gosavi said as he discharged the two from the case.
Kataria is the second top politician after BJP president Amit Shah who had been charge-sheeted in the two cases but will not stand trial after relief from the court.
Shah, who was Minister of State for Home when the alleged staged encounters took place, was discharged on December 30.
According to CBI charge sheet, gangster Sohrabuddin Sheikh wanted to spread his extortion racket in Rajasthan and had demanded Rs 24 crore as protection money from Patni who then approached Kataria for help.
Kataria allegedly got in touch with Shah who later allegedly plotted the entire operation with the help of Gujarat police, the charge sheet said, claiming Rajasthan's former minister was the link between Patni and the present BJP chief.
However, the special judge, while discharging the duo, held that there was no evidence to show any link between Patni and Kataria.
"There is also no evidence to show that Kataria met Shah in connection with the encounter," observed judge Gosavi, adding there was no sufficient ground for CBI to book Patni and Kataria for murder and conspiracy.
The judge rejected the statements of CBI witnesses Prajapati and Azam Khan, close aides of Sheikh, on which the investigating agency had relied to charge sheet them.
Prajapati and Khan had claimed they overheard the conversation between two police officers that Patni-owned RK Marble spent a lot of money to get Sheikh eliminated.
"The statements of Prajapati, Khan and other CBI witnesses on which the agency has relied to make Kataria and Patni accused are hearsay. Therefore, the statements cannot be relied on," observed judge Gosavi.
Kataria and Patni had moved the discharge application last year claiming innocence and saying they had been framed by the agency.
Sohrabuddin, a gangster who the Gujarat police claimed had links with Pakistan-based terror outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba, and his wife Kausar Bi were allegedly abducted by Gujarat ATS from Hyderabad on their way to Sangli in Maharashtra in November 2005.
Sohrabuddin was killed in a fake encounter near Gandhinagar after which his wife disappeared and was believed to have been done to death.
Tulsiram, an aide of the gangster and an eyewitness to the encounter, was allegedly killed by police at Chapri village in Banaskantha district of Gujarat in December 2006.
The Sohrabuddin killing case was transferred to Mumbai in September 2012 at CBI's request to ensure a fair trial. In 2013, the Supreme Court had clubbed Tulsiram Prajapati's encounter killing case with that of Sohrabuddin.