Virbhadra faces graft charge; says will resign if asked to


Shimla/ New Delhi : In a sign of trouble for him in an election year in Himachal Pradesh, a court in Shimla Monday framed corruption charges against former chief minister Virbhadra Singh and his wife Pratibha Singh, triggering demands from the BJP and Team Anna for his resignation. Singh said he will resign if his Congress Party asked him to.

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Singh, who is union minister for micro, small and medium enterprises, termed the corruption charges against him a “concocted case” and a conspiracy by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Himachal Pradesh. He also met Congress chief Sonia Gandhi to clarify his position.

Special Judge B.L. Soni, while pronouncing the order, said the “materials on record show existence of criminal conspiracy by Virbhadra and Pratibha Singh”.

The trial court adjourned the case sine die pending a Himachal Pradesh High Court decision on Virbhadra Singh’s petition demanding that either the case be transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) or a police complaint against him and his wife be quashed.

It means the trial court will now hear the case after a green signal from the high court.

The prosecution had filed the charge sheet against the couple in October 2010.

Virbhadra Singh and Pratibha Singh were booked by Himachal Pradesh Police Aug 3, 2009, under the Prevention of Corruption Act for alleged misuse of official position and criminal misconduct when he was the chief minister in 1989.

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

The cassette allegedly contained Virbhadra Singh’s telephonic conversation with Indian Administrative Service officer Mohinder Lal, who is now dead.

It also contained voices of his wife and some industrialists, who have been identified by the police, proposing to invest in the state.

The trial court order came two days after the five-time Himachal Pradesh chief minister celebrated his birthday and 50 years in politics.

Congress sources said Singh had offered to resign in his meeting with party chief Sonia Gandhi but the party leadership had so far not asked him to go.

Singh is a charismatic leader of the party in the hill state which is scheduled to go for elections later this year. Framing of charges is being seen as a setback to the union minister who is expected to lead the party’s poll campaign.

Reacting to the framing of charges, Virbhadra Singh said the evidence is concocted. “The CD has not been authenticated. They have not compared my voice.”

Asked whether he would resign, he said “I don’t care for my office at all. I don’t want to embarrass my party and the prime minister. As and when the occasion arises, I will take a decision.”

Birender Singh, in-charge of Congress affairs in Himachal Pradesh, said no direction has so far been given to Vibhadra Singh to resign and ruling of the special court on his charges was being studied.

Birender Singh said the former chief minister can move the high court to pray for early verdict in the case.

The BJP stepped up the offensive following the formal framing of charges against Virbhadra Singh and said he should tender his resignation.

“BJP demands that Virbhadra Singh should resign immediately. If he refuses to do so, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should sack him,” party spokesperson Jagat Prakash Nadda said.

Nadda, a former Himachal Pradesh minister, said charges have been framed against several union Ministers in the UPA government.

Team Anna also demanded Virbhadra Singh’s resignation and said the court order vindicates its stand against the former Himachal Pradesh chief minister.