JAIPUR: The Rajasthan High Court on Tuesday stayed the order of the special CBI court last week which had found a huge disinvestment scam in the sale of the government-run Laxmi Vilas Palace Hotel in Udaipur in 2002.
The court stayed the arrest warrants against the former disinvestment secretary Pradip Baijal and two others accused of causing a Rs 244 crore loss to the government through the sale of the hotel to Bharat Hotels Limited during the Atal Bihari Vajpeyi-led NDA government.
The petition by former Union disinvestment minister Arun Shourie in the same case has been listed for hearing on Wednesday.
The stay order came after the court heard criminal revision petitions moved by three of the accused in the case -- former disinvestment secretary Pradip Baijal, Lazard India Ltd Managing Director Ashish Guha, and Bharat Hotels director Jyotsana Suri.
The court also directed the special CBI court, which is hearing the case, to summon the accused through bailable warrants, a counsel for the accused said. To the petition by Jyotsana Suri, the court stayed the handing over of the property to the Udaipur district administration. It also prohibited any sale or leasing away of the hotel to any other group or any party until this case is finally settled.
Anirudh Singh, a lawyer petitioner Ashish Guha said, “The Hon’ble High Court has converted the arrest warrant into a bailable warrant.” Former Union disinvestment minister Arun Shourie has also moved the High Court for a stay on the arrest warrant but his petition is yet to be listed for hearing. Shourie, was the minister for disinvestment during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA government when the Udaipur property, owned by the public sector India Tourism Development Corporation, was sold to Bharat Hotels Ltd, a private group.
On behalf of Bharat Hotels Limited its director Jyotsana Suri, well-known Supreme Court advocate Harish Salve argued from London. Senior advocate Mukul Rohtagi represented the former disinvestment secretary Pradip Baijal. Both argued that the CBI court order was grossly unfair as it had no legal basis to reject the closure report which the CBI had twice filed on the sale of the Laxmi Vilas Palace hotel.
Last week, the CBI court had rejected the closure report submitted in the case by the investigative agency in August 2019 and directed the CBI to reinvestigate the case. In his order, the Special CBI judge PK Sharma had even remarked that “Prima facie, it appears that the then minister Arun Shourie and then secretary Pradeep Baijal misused their offices and caused a loss of Rs 244 crore to the central government in the deal.”
The CBI Court had also ordered the registration of an FIR against former Disinvestment minister Arun Shourie, the former disinvestment secretary Pradip Baijal, Lazard India Ltd managing director Ashish Guha, valuer Kantilal Karamsey, and Bharat Hotels director Jyotsana Suri for the sale of the hotel nearly two decades back. The next hearing on this case will be on October 15.