PF scam: CBI indicts ex-SC judge, 23 other judges

Dhananjay Mahapatra, TNN, Jul 28, 2010, 09.48pm IST

NEW DELHI: This is the biggest ever indictment of the country's judiciary. An extensive CBI probe into the fradulent withdrawal of Rs 6.58 crore from the provident fund accounts of class III and IV employees in the Ghaziabad district court, has found a former Supreme Court judge along with 23 other sitting and retired judges of Allahabad High Court and lower court judges guilty of misdemeanour.

After investigating as many as 47 judges for their alleged role in the scam, the CBI on Wednesday submitted a report to the Supreme Court detailing the misdemeanor and acts of omission and commission of those found guilty.

Though the judges in question are being let off because of lack of "prosecutable evidence", the findings of CBI probe can jolt those who play down the growing instance of irregularities in judiciary, saying that the phenomenon was limited to lower rungs.

The report perused by a Bench comprising Justices D K Jain, V S Sirpurkar and G S Singhvi contained the name of Justice Tarun Chatterjee, who retired on January 14 this year after nearly five and a half years as SC judge.

Though the former SC judge had denied any role in the wrong doing during the questioning done with prior permission of the then CJI, the CBI has said he had committed a "folly" which was an "indiscretion without any criminal intent". The Bench deferred a decision on the request from counsel Prashant Bhushan to make CBI's findings public.

Attorney General G E Vahanvati informed the Bench that the report was also being given to Chief Justice of India S H Kapadia and Allahabad High Court Chief Justice for taking action on the administrative side against the 24 judges, who were found to have committed acts of commission and omission but were not being proceeded against due to lack of "prosecutable evidence".

What was worse, the AG vehemently argued for transfer of the trial of the PF scam from Ghaziabad to Delhi while accusing the sitting district judge of interfering with the trial by attempting to rope in the Uttar Pradesh Police as prosecution in the case and asking CBI to take a back seat despite the agency having been entrusted the task of investigation by the apex court.

Vahanvati explained that if the district judge, under whose administrative jurisdiction the CBI judge conducting the trial functions, was to take such a stand, then the trial would be vitiated. More so, because the CBI has already chargesheeted six judges along with 72 others in the scam.

The Bench immediately stayed further trial proceedings before the special judge (CBI) in the PF scam that was spread from the year 2001 to 2008 with the accused, Asuthosh Asthana, as treasury officer playing a key role. The whistle on the scam was blown by the special judge, Ghaziabad, Rama Jain, who filed a complaint on February 15, 2008. Asthana died under mysterious circumstances in Dasana jail in September last year.

If it questioned the behaviour of 24 judges, then CBI also gave a clean chit to 17 other judges, including Justice S C Nigam of Allahabad HC, against whom it found no material evidence.

"In respect of 24 judges/judicial officers, sufficient prosecutable evidence was not available warranting their prosecution. A CBI report has been sent to the competent authorities for appropriate action against them for various acts of commission and omission," the agency said.

The CBI has found details of the heartless manner in which the hard-earned PF money of class III and IV employees of Ghaziabad courts was illegally siphoned out and lavishly spent on furniture, crockery, mobiles, electronic gadgets and appliances, laptops, rail tickets, taxi fare and other luxury items for the judges.

Those indicted district judges, who headed the Ghaziabad judiciary during the scam period, had almost made it a `way of life' to burn holes in low-grade employees' PF accounts not only for purchase of luxury items, but even for photography and video-recording of family functions and marriages.

"About 500 strips of negatives of the photographs, one CD and two mini video cassettes said to be related to the functions of various members of judiciary were recovered," CBI sources told TOI quoting from an earlier status report submitted to the SC.

"Out of the proceeds of crime, R P Mishra, R P Yadav, R N Mishra, A K Singh, R S Chauney and Arun Kumar -- who were district judges at various periods -- obtained valuable things/services in the form of monthly ration, fruits, vegetables, sweets, jewellery, clothing, saris, expensive electronic goods like computers, TV, fridge, washing machine, mobile phones, crockery items etc, availed taxis, transportation of goods and wooden furniture in their houses," the CBI said.

It is not that these judges could not have afforded mobile phones. But, as these came free, they seldom flinched in accepting freebies provided by Asthana courtesy the PF money of unsuspecting employees, the CBI found. "As per Asthana, he had provided about 60-70 mobile phone instruments to various members of the judiciary," the agency said.

Asthana, who as the treasury officer was tasked to safeguard the PF money of the employees, allegedly did not think twice before opening the strings of the illegally filled purse to meet the expenses for transporting articles -- furniture, crockery, utensils which again were bought from the PF money -- to the residences of the judges.

"Several invoices containing entries in respect of trucks/vehicles provided in last six years containing about 35 entries related to Asthana, sent to various judges of higher and subordinate judiciary have been found," CBI claimed. The trucks had an unbelievably smooth passage through states before reaching their destinations mainly because they were accompanied by a judicial certificate.

"Four original certificates said to be issued by Chief Judicial Magistrate, Ghaziabad, certifying that the truck numbers mentioned in the certificate were carrying the articles of members of judiciary, which were given to the truck driver for smooth passage of goods while passing several states, have also been recovered," it said.

CBI also claimed to have recovered 28 bills of sale of crockery to Asthana and the monogram of the district judge, Ghaziabad, for the year 2006-07. It has also found that Asthana allegedly picked up 43 taxi bills of judges and paid them from the PF money.

"About 540 assorted slips, bills, pieces of papers, sketches etc. were got recovered from the carpenter from his wife. These bills pertain to purchase of various raw material for furniture items during last seven years," the CBI said. This probably completes the chain -- making of furniture and their transportation to the residences of the judges far away from Ghaziabad.

The carpenter, who made the furniture, appears to have impressed the judges with his skill, for he was called to the residences of the judges with fresh orders and he answered these calls travelling with rail tickets purchased from the PF money.

He was called to the judges' residences away from Ghaziabad in Lucknow and Allahabad as many as 17 times and his train tickets were allegedly bought from the PF money, the agency suspected.