Centre presses graft case against Himachal CM Virbhadra

Himachal Pradesh chief minister Virbhadra Singh continues to face trouble as the union government told the Delhi High Court that a "prima facie case" can be made against him for money-laundering.

The BJP-led union government told the court that the Central Bureau of Investigation would decide what to do in the case.

Virbhadra, 79, is a Congress stalwart who has been chief minister of Himachal Pradesh off and on since 1983, apart from being a previous union steel minister. His latest tenure as CM of Himachal began in 2012.

He has been accused of money laundering, owning illegal assets, and criminal misconduct during his tenure as union steel minister. His income tax documents allegedly revealed that his earnings multiplied at the time.

The chief minister has claimed that his income was from his apple orchards. He said today that the case was politically motivated.

"I have done nothing wrong. I expect the CBI and courts to be fair," Singh told NDTV.

A high court bench headed by chief justice G Rohini also asked the Income-Tax Department to file before it tax assessment record and other documents of the chief minister within a week.

"In the meantime, we would like to peruse status reports filed by the CBI in the case," the bench, also comprising justice Jayant Nath, said.

Additional solicitor general (ASG) Sanjay Jain, appearing for the Centre, said, "There was enough prima facie material available on record to say that a money laundering case is made out against respondent No 5 (Virbhadra Singh)."

The ASG was responding to the submissions made by Prashant Bhushan, who is representing the NGO Common Cause, that an undue delay has been caused by the agency in registering an FIR despite the fact that there is sufficient material to prosecute the chief minister.

Only the CBI can say about the exact status of the investigation, the ASG said.

The CBI had earlier told the high court that it can probe allegations of corruption and bribery against the Congress leader during his tenure as chief minister of Himachal Pradesh in 2002 after the court issues necessary order.

The agency had placed an affidavit before the court, which on 4 April had asked the CBI to expedite the preliminary enquiry into the allegations of corruption and bribery against Singh and to take it to a logical conclusion.

In the affidavit, the CBI had said probe into the allegations against Singh pertaining to grant of Sai Koti Hydel Power Project to Venture Energy and Technology Pvt Ltd on June 14, 2002 "would require order of the competent high court having jurisdiction".

Earlier, the court had expressed concern over the delay in probing the matter and had said the CBI cannot take so much time.

The affidavit was filed in connection with an application of the NGO seeking direction to the CBI to probe allegations of corruption and bribery against Singh.

It had said that during his tenure as CM, the state government had allotted the Sai Koti project to the private firm. "The said company defaulted in the execution of the project and the state government granted several extensions to the company. After Singh became the Chief Minister, his government granted it a further extension of 10 months. The decision was made on extraneous considerations," it had alleged.

In its main petition, the NGO has sought a court-monitored CBI inquiry into allegations of money laundering, amassing disproportionate assets and criminal misconduct against Singh during his tenure as union steel minister.

Singh has refuted the allegations.