A Special court of Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in Jodhpur yesterday ordered the filing of criminal case in relation to the sale of a government-run hotel against former Union Disinvestment Minister Arun Shourie, former Disinvestment Secretary Pradeep Baijal. Cases have been also ordered against three others namely, Ashish Guha, then MD of investment firm Lazard India Limited, Kanitlal Karamsey Vikamsey, then head f valuation firm Kanti Karamsey & Co. and Jyotsna Suri, Chairperson and MD of Bharat Hotels Limited. The case will be filed under section 120 B (criminal conspiracy), section 420 (cheating) of the Indian Penal Code and section 13(1) D of the Prevention of Corruption Act.
It is alleged in the FIR filed by the CBI in 2014 had alleged that the Laxmi Vilas Palace Hotel in Udaipur whose value was estimated to be Rs 252 crores was disinvested for Rs 7.52 crores. Based on its preliminary inquiry, the CBI had alleged that Baijal had abused his position and entered into a contract for the disinvestment of the hotel. The hotel was earlier run by the Indian Tourism Development Corporation. In the year 2002, it was sold to the Bharat Hotels Limited which runs the Lalit Group of Hotels during the NDA government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
The Court Rebuked the CBI
The Special CBI court was hearing the closure report of the CBI in this case in which the investigating agency said that it could not prosecute the accused due to lack of evidence. The Special CBI judge Pooran Kumar Sharma disagreed and rebuked the CBI for filing the closure report. The court ordered the hotel to be handed over to the state government. “The CBI is a reputed agency of the country; closure report by it despite facts pointing towards criminality is a case of concern” the court remarked.
The court also observed that, prima facie, it appeared that Arun Shourie and Pradeep Baijal abused their official positions. “Prime facie, it appears that the then minister Arun Shourie and Secretary Pradeep Baijal misused their offices and caused a loss of Rs 244 crore to the central government in the deal”, the court observed. “The unknown officers and private persons indulged in this conspiracy from 1999 to 2002 to cause loss of money to the government. The value of the land was evaluated at Rs 45 per square yard. Even a spoon in the hotel would have been costlier than that” the court said.
The court has ordered the accused persons to be summoned through arrest warrants.