With Karunakaran's death, appeal abates
The Kerala palmolein import case, in which P.J. Thomas, now Central Vigilance Commissioner and formerly official of that State, is cited as one of the accused, took a new turn on Tuesday, with the Supreme Court paving the way for the commencement of the trial pending in a lower court.
With the death of the former Chief Minister, K. Karunakaran, the main accused, the Supreme Court disposed of his appeal as having come to an end.
Mr. Thomas has already informed the Supreme Court that he would recuse himself from monitoring the probe into the 2G spectrum scam case, being conducted by the Central Bureau of Investigation, when apprehensions were voiced about his role as the former Telecom Secretary.
The trial court, which will take up the palmolein case on Wednesday, can now proceed to frame charges against the accused. In that event, it may become untenable for Mr. Thomas to continue as CVC. The trial court can also discharge him, holding that no charge is made out against him.
At Tuesday's resumed hearing in the Supreme Court, a Bench of Justices Aftab Alam and R.M. Lodha was informed of Karunakaran's death. In a brief order, it said: “The sole appellant died on December 23, 2010. Consequently, the appeal abates, and is dismissed as such.”
According to the charge sheet filed under the Prevention of Corruption Act and the Indian Penal Code, the accused caused a Rs. 23.2-crore loss to the exchequer by importing palmolein at exorbitant rates. It alleged that the agreement to import 15,000 tonnes from P&E Ltd. followed a meeting Karunakaran had with the representatives of the firm and its Indian representative, Mala Trading Corporation, in New Delhi in 1991.
The charge sheet alleged that the imports carried out between October 4, 1991 and April 1992 violated Central and State government rules. The KSCSC reached the agreement with P&E Ltd. though the State government had not sanctioned it. The price, fixed on February 24, 1992, was far above the average procurement price of $392.25 set by the State Trading Corporation.
The previous Congress government wanted to withdraw the case, but its plea was turned down by the trial court, whose order was upheld by the Kerala High Court. On Karunakaran's appeal, the Supreme Court stayed the trial in August 2007.