NEW DELHI: Former Samata Party president Jaya Jaitly and two others have been convicted by a court here in a nearly 20-year-old graft case related to a purported defence deal that stemmed from a sensational sting operation by Tehelka news portal.
Special CBI judge Virender Bhat held Jaitly, her former party colleague Gopal Pacherwal and Major General (retired) S.P.Murgai guilty of corruption and criminal conspiracy.
The sting, 'Operation Westend', was aired by Tehelka in January 2001 in which the accused purportedly accepted bribe from reporters of the portal, who posed as representatives of a fictitious company, for supply orders for handheld thermal imagers from the army.
The meetings took place in the official residence of the then defence minister George Fernandes.
In its July 21 order, the court observed that while Jaitly accepted illegal gratification of Rs 2 lakh from Mathew Samuel, a representative of the fictitious company Westend International, Murgai received Rs 20,000.
The three accused, along with Surender Kumar Surekha who later turned an approver, were a party to the criminal conspiracy, the court held.
All the three accused - Jaitly, Pacherwal and Murgai - were convicted of the offence of conspiracy (Section 120-B IPC) read with Section 9 (Taking gratification, for exercise of personal influence with public servant) of Prevention of Corruption (PC) Act.
The court is scheduled to hear arguments on quantum of sentence on July 29.
The court held that from the evidence led by the prosecution it is proved beyond doubt that in the meeting in the hotel room on December 25, 2000 Surekha and Murgai assured their assistance to Samuel in procuring letter of evaluation for the product of his company from the Ministry of Defence and also to arrange a meeting between him and accused Jaya Jaitly who would provide political cover to them in this regard.
"It was agreed that Samuel would pay a sum of Rs.1 lakh each to Surekha and Murgai and a sum of Rs 2 lakh to accused Jaitly in this regard, the order said. Thus there had been an agreement between them to obtain the evaluation letter for the concerned product by illegal means i.e. by resorting to corruption and personal influence upon the concerned officials," the court said.
The court observed that "such kind of agreement was clearly tantamount to the offence of conspiracy".
Thereafter, Surekha contacted Pacherwal and roped him in the conspiracy, it said.
"Accordingly, Pacherwal arranged the said meeting for December 28, 2000. He too was present in the said meeting in the room of Jaitly along with Surekha, Samuel and Murgai."
In that meeting, which took place in the official residence of the then Union Minister for Defence, George Fernandes, Samuel was introduced to Jaitly as a businessman whose company intends to enter the market of defence procurement.
"Samuel offered the sum of Rs 2 lakh to Jaitly who instructed him to handover the money to Pacherwal and accordingly, the money was received by accused Pacherwal knowing that it was bribe money."
"In lieu thereof, Jaitly assured Samuel that in case the product of his company is not considered, she would intervene by making a request to 'Sahib' (purportedly Fernandes) to send a word to the concerned officer in this regard," the judge observed.
Therefore, both the accused Pacherwal and Jaitley, having joined the conspiracy at a later point of time with the knowledge about the object and having agreed to perform the task assigned to them towards its fulfilment, are also guilty of the offence of conspiracy, the court said.
"Jaitly received a sum of Rs 2 lakhs through Pacherwal from Samuel as a motive/reward for agreeing to accomplish the task given to her i.e. to exert personal influence upon the concerned Ministers/ Officers in pushing the product of the company of Samuel into the Indian Army."
Similarly, Murgai received a sum of Rs 20,000 from Samuel on January 4, 2000, for the assistance rendered by him in arranging a meeting with Jaitly and securing a letter of evaluation for the product of the company by exercise of personal influence upon the concerned officers, the court noted.
"Therefore, both of them have committed offence envisaged under Section 9 of the PC Act," it said.
Jaitly, who was Fernandes' close aide, resigned as Samata Party chief following the graft allegations.
The charge sheet against the three was filed in 2006 and the charges were framed in 2012.