Witnesses refute graft claim against Virbhadra

Say they never offered bribe to Congress leader, his wife

A day after witness Vijai Singh Mankotia introduced an element of doubt in the bribery case involving former chief minister and Congress leader Virbhadra Singh, two prime witnesses on Saturday turned hostile.

The audio cassette released by Mankotia purportedly contained telephonic conversations regarding monetary transactions involving Virbhadra Singh, his wife Pratibha Singh and former Indian Administrative Service officer Mohinder Lal.

Mankotia had released the cassette in 2007 after he was expelled from the Congress. Witnesses P C Jain, a former vice-president of Gujarat Ambuja Cement Ltd., and Brigadier (retd.) Kapil Mohan, managing director of Mohan Meakin Ltd brewery, informed the court of special judge B L Soni here that their statements recorded by the prosecution were false.

They said they never offered or gave bribes to Virbhadra Singh and his wife Pratibha Singh, who were booked by the state police Aug 3, 2009, under the Prevention of Corruption Act for alleged misuse of official position and criminal misconduct while he was chief minister in 1989.

According to police, the couple was booked on the basis of the cassette released by Mankotia, once Virbhadra Singh’s political adversary, in 2007.

Mankotia had told the court that somebody left the cassette at his residence.
Later, he handed it over to the police for investigation. In the cassette, Virbhadra Singh was purportedly heard referring to some monetary transactions on the phone with Mohinder Lal, who is now dead.It also contained the voices of Pratibha Singh, a former parliamentarian, and some industrialists.

Retracting his statement given in March 2010, Jain said he had neither met Lal, who was state director industries in 1989, nor then chief minister Virbhadra Singh to facilitate necessary clearances for the company’s cement plant in Darlaghat in Solan district.
“Since I never ever met Mohinder Lal or Virbhadra Singh, the question of giving a bribe of Rs 2 lakh to the then chief minister does not rise,” he said.

He also denied his earlier statement to the prosecution about giving a bribe of Rs 3 lakh to Pratibha Singh at her residence in Shimla.

The prosecution had claimed that Jain had accompanied Ambuja chairman Suresh Neotia to Himachal Bhawan in New Delhi where the alleged transaction took place with the former chief minister.

During cross-examination, Jain rejected the prosecution charge that was under the influence of the accused. “Why should I lie in the court at the age of 85,” he said.
Likewise, Mohan Meakin managing director Kapil Mohan told the court that he never recorded his statement with the prosecution about exchanging money.
Mankotia had Friday informed the court that the recorded voices in an audio cassette ‘seem to be of Virbhadra Singh, his wife and Lal’.

Interestingly, ahead of the Nov 4 Assembly polls in the state, Mankotia rejoined the Congress on the recommendation of five-time chief minister Virbhadra Singh.

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