The conviction of a former chairman of a nationalised bank, among other officials, in a bank fraud case 17 years after it was registered, has turned the focus on the time-consuming processes involved in such cases before they reach the logical conclusion.

A host of factors, including the right of the accused to take all possible defence under the law, seem to play a role in making cases traverse a long period. There is no time-frame for concluding various stages of a case. After the cases reach the courts, trial should be conducted “as expeditiously as possible.”

As far as bank fraud cases are concerned, the transactions are not the same and different officials are involved. Besides, collecting necessary documentary evidence and fixing those responsible for the offence is an uphill task. Some of the accused are “highly influential” persons. The same official and the outsider may be involved in more than one offence. To make matters worse, some accused may not be available for interrogation. For instance, in a case, a person involved, was staying abroad for some years thereby causing delay in the investigation. If a person wanted is stated to be absconding for a long time, the case will have to be split up by observing the legal procedure and this consumes time. This handicap is equally applicable in the case of outside beneficiaries of bank frauds, sources say.

Getting sanction for prosecuting a serving nationalised bank official or an employee of the government or public sector undertaking in a fraud case or in a disproportionate wealth case is a major problem. The Supreme Court’s judgment setting a three-month deadline for governments to decide whether or not to grant sanction should come as a major relief for investigating agencies, says a public prosecutor.

Seeking discharge from the case, the accused prefer petitions. If aggrieved by the rejection of their plea, they move the High Court or seek the quashing of the criminal proceedings. “This is because the accused has a right to defence and can make use of every available provision of law to seek relief.” The accused alone are not to blame for the delay. At times, copies of documents relied upon by the prosecution and served on the accused, are not clear.

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