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Apples or kickbacks? The curious case of Himachal CM Virbhadra Singh's income

Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh appears before the Enforcement Directorate to record statement in disproportionate assets case in New Delhi.

Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh appears before the Enforcement Directorate to record statement in disproportionate assets case in New Delhi.   | Photo Credit: V. Sudershan

Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh on Monday knocked on the court’s doors seeking bail in the disproportionate assets case filed against him and his wife by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). The Enforcement Directorate (ED) is also separately probing a money-laundering angle in the case.

Last month, the ED attached a ₹27.29-crore farmhouse in Delhi belonging Mr.Singh’sson allegedly bought with the help of shell companies.

The origin

In 2013, BJP leader Arun Jaitley shot off letters to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the CBI accusing Virbhadra Singh of receiving kickbacks to award contracts. The CBI initiated a preliminary inquiry based on the complaint, but the inquiry made little progress.

The CBI, in 2015, initiated another inquiry against Mr. Singh and his family following a PIL filed in the Delhi High Court by NGO Common Cause. The CBI claimed Mr. Singh had allegedly amassed wealth of ₹ 6.1 crore disproportionate to his known sources of income while serving as Union Minister of Steel.

According to the CBI, Mr. Singh’s son Vikramaditya had purchased a farmhouse atMehrauli in South Delhi for ₹1.2 crore through a company, using the money obtained from his father. The investigation agency further claimed that the property was purchased in the name of a company owned by Vikramaditya and his sister Aparajita and that the company itself was incorporated just three months before the deal.

Investigations revealed that Mr. Singh and his wife had taken “friendly loans” from oneVakamulla Chandrashekhar. The couple had also purchased insurance policies through an LIC agent, Anand Chauhan. These transactions, the CBI said, happened between 2009 and 2012 when Mr. Singh was the Union Minister.

Mr. Chandrashekhar was one of the promoters of Venture Energy and Technology Private Limited, a company completing a hydel power project in Himachal Pradesh. In his letter, Mr. Jaitley had claimed the firm was bidding for contract even after it was rejected.

Beside the Singhs, Mr. Chauhan, Mr. Chandrashekhar, Universal Apples Associates (Himachal Pradesh) owner Chunni Lal Chauhan, Prem Raj, Lavan Roach, Ram PrakashBhatia, and a stamp vendor have been named in the chargesheet.

Mr. Singh, however, has refuted all charges as “mala fide” and claimed he got the assets by selling apples grown in his orchards. But the CBI claims Universal Apples itself is a shell company.

The timing of the CBI inquiry did raise the eyebrows of political observers. Himachal Pradesh will be going to polls next year and this is not the first time Mr. Singh is facing a wealth case.

The CD case

During the 2012 elections, Mr. Singh managed to wrest power from the BJP despite facing a corruption charges. In fact, he was forced to step down from the Union Cabinet in 2012 after what was popularly known as the ‘CD case’.

A document that surfaced in 2012, purported to be seized during an Income Tax raid on Ispat Industries during 2010, appeared to record off-book cash transactions made by company staff from 2007. Lakhs and crores of rupees were allegedly given to one ‘VBS’, which the BJP claimed was Virbhadra Singh.

However, the BJP’s aggressive campaign against Mr. Singh during the 2012 elections backfired. Just a day before he was scheduled to be sworn in as the Chief Minister, he was acquitted from the case by a Shimla court citing lack of evidence.

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Printable version | Aug 8, 2020 9:27:55 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/apples-or-kickbacks-the-curious-case-of-himachal-cm-virbhadra-singhs-income/article18525093.ece

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