Indian National Lok Dal’s supremo and Haryana’s four-time chief minister Om Prakash Chautala was pronounced guilty by a Delhi court, Saturday, in over a decade old disproportionate assets case. The quantum of punishment shall be awarded on May 26. VARINDER BHATIA explains what was the case all about and what took it so long for the court to pronounce the verdict.

Who is Om Prakash Chautala?

Chautala had been a seven time MLA in Haryana served as chief minister four times including first time from July 24, 1999 – March 5, 2005; from March 22, 1991 to April 6, 1991; from July 12, 1990 to July 17, 1990; December 2, 1989 to May 22, 1990.

What happened in the court, today?

The Rouse Avenue court at New Delhi, pronounced the verdict holding Om Prakash Chautala guilty of amassing assets disproportionate to his known sources of income. Since March 26, 2010 when CBI had filed the chargesheet in the case and the trial commenced against Chautala, several hearings took place in the court. Eventually, on May 19, the arguments from both the sides (prosecution and defense) were concluded and the court kept its verdict “reserved”. Today, the court resumed hearing in the case and pronounced the verdict holding Chautala, guilty of the offence. Om Prakash Chautala was also present in the court at the time of pronouncement of verdict.

What is the case all about?

Haryana’s former chief minister and Indian National Lok Dal supremo, Om Prakash Chautala, was held guilty in a case of disproportionate assets, today, by a Delhi court. The quantum of punishment shall be pronounced on May 26. On March 26, 2010 Central Bureau of Investigation that was probing the case had filed the chargesheet against Chautala. The CBI had contended that while working as a public servant (MLA/ Chief Minister) between May 24, 1993, to May 31, 2006; Chautala had amassed assets to the tune of Rs 6,09,79,026 (Rs. 6.09 crore) which were beyond his known and disclosed sources of income. The investigation under the PMLA was initiated by the Enforcement Directorate (ED), which has alleged that disproportionate assets generated by the accused while working as a public servant were proceeds of crime and tainted funds which were used in the purchase of properties by the accused. The court also observed that “prima facie material is on record to show that proceeds of crime, generated by the commission of a scheduled offense under Section 13 of the Prevention of Corruption Act were used by accused in the purchase of three properties and prima facie material is on record to show that Rs.95 Lakh was utilized in the construction.” In 2019, Enforcement Directorate had attached Chautala’s assets worth Rs. 3.68 crore that included his flat, a plot and a chunk of land in New Delhi, Panchkula and Sirsa. The action was taken under the provisions of prevention of Money Laundering Act. In January, 2021, Special Judge Vikas Dhull had framed charges against Chautala under Section 4 of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002. “Charge for the offense under Section 4 of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 framed today against the accused in pursuant to order dated 13.01.2021 to which accused pleaded not guilty and claimed trial,” the court had said.

What caused the long delay in verdict of this case?

Chautala had been seeking adjournments on multiple grounds during the trial of this case. Be it getting a pacemaker for his heart, a surgery, not being delivered summons, getting admitted in hospital without informing the court etc. In March, 2013, the Delhi court had pulled up Tihar jail authorities for not informing the court about Chautala’s hospitalisation. Chautala was admitted to RML hospital and failed to appear for the trial in the disproportionate assets case, following which the court pulled up Tihar jail authorities for not intimating it about the development. The court also issued notice to the jail superintendent seeking a report on the health status of Chautala. A fresh production warrant was also issued against Chautala, by the court.

What is the previous case in which Chautala was held guilty?

Chautala was earlier held guilty, on January 22, 2013 on charges of corruption and criminal conspiracy in the infamous JBT teachers recruitment scam. He was sentenced to seven years of sentence on charges of corruption and 10 years on charges of criminal conspiracy. Besides Om Prakash Chautala, his elder son Ajay Chautala and 53 others were also held guilty in the same JBT teachers recruitment scam. A total of 55 persons were convicted under the JBT scam for illegally recruiting 3,206 teachers in Haryana in 2000. Among the prominent who were convicted in JBT teachers recruitment scam were 82-year-old Chautala’s then political adviser Sher Singh Badshami, the then Officer on Special Duty (OSD) Vidya Dhar, IAS, and then Primary Education Director Sanjiv Kumar, besides 50 others. Last year on July 2, he was released form Tihar jail after he completed his sentence. His elder son Ajay Chautala, and 51 others were also held guilty in the same case and were given different quantum of punishment.

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