Kochi | In a setback to the ruling Congress-led UDF Government, Kerala High Court today rejected its plea to withdraw prosecution in a 23-year old palmolein oil import scam case in which names of some politicians and bureaucrats have cropped up, holding that such a move would only help the accused personally or otherwise.
The state government had aqppealed against a Thrissur Vigilance Court order dismissing its application to withdraw the case. The Supreme Court in September last year had asked the high court to dispose of within three months the appeal filed by the government.
The case related to import of palm oil during 1991-92 at ‘inflated’ price by the then Congress Government headed by late K Karunakaran from a Malaysian firm allegedly causing a loss of Rs 2.33 crores to the state exchequer. Chief Minister Oommen Chandy was the Finance Minister then.
It had marred the careers of late Congress veteran K Karunakaran and former Central Vigilance Commissioner P J Thomas, who figured as accused in the chargesheet. Thomas’ appointment as CVC was quashed by the apex court due to the pendency of the case against him.
The present government had decided to withdraw the case stating that the import had neither caused any loss to the exchequer nor had anyone made any unlawful gain from it. Dismissing the appeal, Justice P Ubaid in his 62-page judgement held withdrawal from prosecution will not serve any public interest and no public good was going to be achieved by such withdrawal. The court held that such a withdrawal will only help the accused personally or otherwise.
Besides the state’s petition, the court also passed orders on three other connected petitions. It rejected a plea by senior IAS officer, Giji Thomson, former SAI Director, who is tipped to be the next Chief Secretary, to quash the proceedings against him. The court held that there is absolutely nothing to indicate that present prosecution is an ‘abuse of legal process’. The request made by the petitioner cannot be allowed, it said.
The other two petitions were filed by Leader of Opposition in the state Assembly V S Achutanandan and CPI MLA V S Sunil Kumar seeking to implead themselves in the withdrawal plea by the state and the court held they have the right and locus standi to object withdrawal of prosecution as representatives of people.
Criticising the Legal Adivisor to the state government, the high court said he was not acting in good faith. Application by him will not satisfy the court. The decision to withdraw prosecution will not help the society or serve any public interest. Such withdrawal may have the affect of thwarting or stifling the process of law, the Judge said. Court said the legal and factual aspects raised by the state and the accused for getting permission for withdrawal were in fact grounds to be urged and considered during trial by trial court and those questions can be decided only when case goes to trial. The Karunakaran Government had imported about 15,000 tonnes of Palmolein allegedly causing loss to the exchequer.
A Vigilance case was filed against Karunakaran and seven others, including former minister T H Mustaffa, Thomas, former chief secretary S Padmakumar and former additional chief secretary, Zacharia Mathew. Though Chandy did not figure as an accused initially, a few years ago a Vigilance Court in Thiruvananthapuram ordered a probe into his role in the cabinet decision to import the oil.
This was later reversed by the Vigilance Court in Thrissur following which Achuthanandan approached the high court, which also dismissed plea for further investigation against Chandy. Supreme Court’s intervention came when Achuthanandan moved it seeking a fresh investigation into the matter alleging that the earlier probe was done when Congress was in power and favoured Chandy.
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