Police widen probe into cash-for-votes scandal

NEW DELHI Thu Jul 21, 2011 3:44pm IST

A video grab shows India's opposition lawmakers displaying wads of cash they said were offered as bribes to abstain from voting during a two-day debate inside the parliament in New Delhi July 22, 2008. REUTERS/ANI/Files

A video grab shows India's opposition lawmakers displaying wads of cash they said were offered as bribes to abstain from voting during a two-day debate inside the parliament in New Delhi July 22, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/ANI/Files

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NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Police widened their probe into charges some opposition lawmakers were bribed in 2008 to vote for the Congress party-led government in a confidence vote, as prosecutors prepared on Thursday to oppose the bail plea of one of those accused.

Sohail Hindustani on Wednesday became the second person to be arrested after the Supreme Court pulled up police for tardy progress in the case, which could prove a fresh embarrassment for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's scandal-hit government.

The 2008 confidence vote, which nearly brought down the coalition government, was sparked by opposition to a civil nuclear agreement between the United States and India, which ended New Delhi's isolation in the global nuclear market.

"He (Hindustani) will be presented in court at 2 p.m. (0830 GMT)," Delhi police spokesman Rajan Bhagat said, affirming the police would seek to continue holding him in custody. Indian law permits accused to be held for up to 90 days without filing charges.

Police have not yet drawn any link between the two arrested suspects and the Congress party, and Singh's government is unlikely to fall on the scandal as it has a slim majority in parliament.

"I don't think it will cause any serious damage," political analyst Amulya Ganguli said. "It's a three-year-old incident."

Singh was returned to power in a national election in 2009, but his second term has been dogged by a series of graft scandals that have paralysed his government and prevented him from forcefully pushing forward reforms to further open up the $1.6 trillion economy.

Allegations of graft emerged in the middle of the 2008 confidence vote, which was forced on Singh after four communist parties withdrew support from the government over the civilian nuclear deal with the United States.

As parliament debated the 2008 vote, three opposition members stood up waving bundles of cash they said was given to them to vote for the government. In the pandemonium that followed, Singh won the vote by a narrow margin.

Hindustani is accused of acting as a go-between to facilitate the bribes. Once an associate of the youth wing of the main opposition Bharaiya Janata Party (BJP), he has said that he was only acting as a whistle-blower to expose corruption.

LEAKED CABLE

A U.S. diplomatic cable made public by WikiLeaks quoted a political aide as saying Congress leaders had paid lawmakers from a small party $2.2 million each to back Singh.

Singh has denied that any member of his party or government was involved in the cash-for-votes scandal, but the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has raised the issue as another instance of the government turning a blind eye to corruption within its ranks.

Former telecoms minister A. Raja and DMK MP Kanimozhi are in jail pending trial in a case over graft and illegal favours during a 2007/08 grant of lucrative telecoms licences. Prominent Congress lawmaker Suresh Kalmadi is also in jail in a case of graft in issuing contracts for the 2010 Commonwealth Games.

These instances of corruption in high places have eroded public support for Singh's government, evidenced by the large crowds that gathered across the country to back a hunger strike of anti-graft activist Anna Hazare in April.

Police had earlier arrested in the case a former aide to Amar Singh, who in 2008 was a top leader of the regional Samajwadi Party which had switched positions to vote in favour of the nuclear deal and the government.

The three opposition members, all from the BJP, told a parliamentary inquiry that Amar Singh had offered them the bribes, after speaking to Ahmed Patel, the powerful political secretary to Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi.

The inquiry had concluded that there was "no case" against Patel and "no clinching evidence" against Amar Singh. Amar Singh is not related to Manmohan Singh.

(Editing by Paul de Bendern and Alex Richardson)

FILED UNDER:
We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (2)
Ramamurthi wrote:
The congress Manipulated parliament enquiry was a sham. It was meant to be like that since the congress wanted to cover the tracks leading to their head. Even now the party will make all efforts to scuttle the probe. They can be expected to resort to undemocratic methods to remain overboard.
Even in the other scams the unconfirmed news points the finger at the congress party, especially its head. Under such circumstances the correction, if at all, can happen only in 2014, at the next parliament elections.

Jul 21, 2011 4:58pm IST  --  Report as abuse
Saini23 wrote:
Why anybody should expect the very ruling UPA alliance would not try its best to scuttle or cover up this scam cash-for-votes used for its own survival at the time of no confidence motion? It won’t surprise & are expected even murders of persons holding key evidences as is happening in other scams lest key perpetrators get exposed to general public! When trapped & courts start pursuing the case, missing or destruction of files/documents of evidences start taking place which is the easiest modus operandi adopted to escape conviction & punishment before other drastic measures to fulfill the objective. However let the ruling alliance know that all Indian general public is aware of it & can’t escape the fallout!

Jul 22, 2011 4:25pm IST  --  Report as abuse
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