Even as the privileges committee of the Gujarat Assembly has been asked to investigate the actions of the Central Bureau of Investigation, the investigating agency probing the Sohrabuddin Sheikh-Kausar Bi murder case suffered a major setback with one of its key witnesses turning hostile.

Noor Mohammed Ghoghari — an accused in the Popular Builder firing case whose allegations against some top police officers helped the CBI frame charges of extortion against them as well as former Gujarat Home Minister Amit Shah — on Wednesday claimed that he never made any such allegations.

In fact, Ghoghari said he had not given any statement to the CBI and counter-charged the agency with “torture and pressure” to elicit a statement “of their choice” from him.

The CBI — in its charge sheet filed against the Sohrabuddin murder accused, including Mr. Shah — had claimed that Ghoghari confessed that former DIG and prime accused D.G. Vanzara, former police superintendent Rajkumar Pandian, and former deputy commissioner of police Abhay Chudasma extorted Rs.40 lakh from him after the Sohrabuddin encounter.

Ghoghari was also claimed to having told the CBI that he was once framed in a false case by Mr. Chudasma and spent three years in jail before a former BJP member of the Lok Sabha arranged bail for him.

'Tremendous pressure'

However, in an application before the Ahmedabad sessions court, where he made an unexpected appearance, Ghoghari claimed that he made no such statement before the CBI. He said that he along with another accused in the Popular Builder firing case, Mahendrasinh Jhala, were called to the CBI office for interrogation about the Sohrabuddin case.

“I said I did not know anything, but the CBI officials exerted tremendous pressure on us to make statements of their choice, saying that they would help us in the Popular Builder firing case,” he said.

When mediapersons approached him in the court complex, Ghoghari repeated the same allegation against the CBI and claimed that the investigating agency's officials had tortured him and Jhala to “extort a statement of their choice,” but said he had not given any statement.

He said he deliberately missed the last hearing of the case because he was scared that the CBI would pick him up from the court compound and implicate him in some false cases to pressurise him into filing distorted statements in the Sohrabuddin case.

Ghoghari and Sohrabuddin were alleged to have opened fire in the Popular Builder office in Ahmedabad to extort money. The CBI believed the incident was planned by Mr. Shah and the other accused to frame a case against Sohrabuddin in Gujarat so that he could be brought to the State at some later date in the name of court proceedings and eliminated.

The court, however, postponed the framing of charges in the firing case till August 25 as another co-accused was not present on Wednesday.

Inquiry into arrest

In another development, on a complaint filed by BJP member of the State Assembly Atmaram Parmar, the Speaker Ashok Bhatt referred to the privileges committee of the House for an inquiry into the arrest of Mr. Shah by the CBI.

Mr. Parmar pointed out that the CBI had violated the privileges of the House by failing to inform the Speaker about Mr. Shah's arrest, as he was a sitting member of the House.

The court also postponed till August 26 a final decision on accepting the plea of former deputy superintendent Narendra Amin to turn an approver, after counsel for Mr. Vanzara and seven other police officers — who objected against their co-accused being accepted as an approver — raised the question of constitutional propriety and Mr. Amin's advocate claiming that the special CBI court was not competent to decide on constitutional matters.

The hearing on the CBI application for the remand of Rajendra Jirawala, the owner of the Arham farm house where Kausar Bi was allegedly killed, was also deferred till September 8 along with his bail application.

Main issue: BJP

Meanwhile, the BJP State parliamentary board — at its meeting here on Wednesday held in the presence of the party's national observer Balbir Punj — decided to make Mr. Shah's arrest and the alleged “misuse” of the CBI, along with the price rise of essential commodities, as the main issues in the Kathlal State Assembly by-elections scheduled for September 13 and the coming elections to the municipal corporations, municipalities and the district and taluka panchayats in Gujarat later this year.