New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday issued notice to Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, asking why his plea against a CBI investigation into a disproportionate assets case should not be transferred from the state high court.
The apex court bench of Justice Fakkir Mohamed Ibrahim Kalifulla and Justice Uday Umesh Lalit issued notice on the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) plea, challenging the Himachal Pradesh High Court order restraining it from investigating the chief minister and his wife or taking them in custody for interrogation.
The high court on October 1 had stayed the arrest of Virbhadra Singh and his wife Pratibha Singh in the Rs.6 crore assets case as the CBI sought their custodial interrogation.
Virbhadra Singh moved the high court following CBI raids at his residences in Delhi and Shimla on September 26 which he contended were mala fide and out of political vendetta.
A notice, returnable on November 5, has also been issued to Singh’s wife Pratibha Singh.
Besides the notice on CBI plea seeking the transfer of case outside Himachal, the notice has also been issued on the plea challenging the October 1 order.
Assailing the high court order, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi told the court that the judge who passed the October 1 order had on two earlier occasions recused himself from hearing the matter involving Singh, saying that the latter was his client when he was a practising advocate.
Rohatgi referred to newspaper reports to buttress his point, inviting jibes from senior counsels Kapil Sibal and P.Chidambaram for reading media reports as an extension of court orders.
Appearing for Virbhadra Singh, Sibal said that instances being referred to by the Attorney General were related to the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association and had nothing to do with the matter before the apex court.
Besides objecting to the said judge hearing and passing the October 1 order, Rohatgi said that the investigating agency was seeking the transfer of the case as it related to an incumbent chief minister and the same matter was being heard and monitored by the Delhi High Court.
Rohatgi said that while the Delhi High Court asked the CBI to take the matter to its logical conclusion, but due to the order of the Himachal Pradesh High Court the investigating agency could not proceed with its investigation.
“I can’t interrogate. I can’t move forward in Rs.6 crore of unaccounted wealth that relates to the period when Virbhadra Singh was a union minister in the then UPA government,” he said.
While protecting Singh and his wife from any interrogation, the Himachal Pradesh High Court by its October 1 order said, “…by way of abundant precaution, it’s made clear that the petitioners shall not be arrested.”
“It’s also made clear that as and when the dossier is complete, it shall be open for the CBI to approach this court for permission to interrogate the petitioners in accordance with law,” the high court further said.
The case was registered on September 23 under the Prevention of Corruption Act against the chief minister, his wife Pratibha Singh, LIC agent Anand Chauhan and an associate, Chunni Lal.
The FIR was the outcome of a preliminary inquiry which revealed that Singh, while serving as a union minister during 2009-2012, allegedly accumulated assets worth Rs.6.03 crore in his name and in the name of his family members which were found to be disproportionate to his known sources of income.