The Kerala High Court has directed the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) special court in Thiruvananthapuram to split up the SNC-Lavalin case and begin the trial of Communist Party of India (Marxist) State secretary Pinarayi Vijayan and other accused after excluding the trial of SNC-Lavalin, a Canada-based company and its former vice president Klaus Triendl, both arraigned as accused in the case.

Justice C.T. Ravikumar issued the direction while allowing a petition filed by the CPI(M) leader and an accused in the case.

Mr. Vijayan’s petition challenged the CBI special court’s order rejecting his plea for splitting up the charge sheet and beginning the trial of those who had appeared before the court, without waiting for the arrest and appearance of the accused against whom warrants were yet to be executed.

The court, holding that the petition was maintainable, observed that speedy trial was an integral part of the fundamental right guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution. The judge pointed out that the CBI court had deferred the trial on two occasions to enable the CBI to complete the extradition proceedings initiated against SNC-Lavalin and its vice president.

Political career

Mr. Vijayan sought an early trial on the ground that even after more than three years of filing the charge sheet, the CBI had not been able to secure the presence of the company and its former vice president. He alleged that the CBI was trying to delay the trial indefinitely “at the dictates of their political masters in the Central government,” as the agency was convinced that the trial would end up in the acquittal of the petitioner.

“The deceitful design and ulterior motive is to see that the petitioner is kept away from the political and election arena of the State, as long as possible,” Mr. Vijayan said. He added that the case was “hanging like the sword of Damocles above his head, endangering his bright and brilliant political career, clouding his reputation, and hampering the pace of his activities among the general public,” he added.

The CPI(M) leader said the special court had failed to comprehend these facts and granted the CBI time to secure the presence of the former vice president.

The CBI’s case was that the accused, including the then Power Minster (Mr. Vijayan), had hatched a criminal conspiracy among themselves and along with the senior vice president of SNC-Lavalin to award the contract to the Canadian company to renovate the Pallivasal, Sengulam, and Panniar hydroelectric plants at a higher rate, thereby violating the law and causing a huge loss to the exchequer.

CBI stance

Opposing the plea of Mr. Vijayan for an early trial, the CBI submitted that the trial could not be split up and the trial of Mr. Vijayan and others could not be started in the first place, as the process of extradition of SNC-Lavalin and its former vice president was still underway. The extradition request of Klaus Triendl was yet to be considered by the Government of Canada. Therefore, it could not be concluded that both the accused were absconding and that Klaus Triendl could not be extradited within a reasonable time, warranting the split up of the trial at this stage.

The CBI further contended that the prosecution had a strong case against all the accused, including the petitioner. It had thorough documentary, oral, and circumstantial evidence to establish the charges.

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