|Lalu Prasad outside a court in Ranchi (Pic: European Pressphoto Agency)|
Monday, September 30, 2013
Ex-Indian state chief minister convicted for fodder scam
The case was filed against Yadav in 1996 for the alleged embezzlement of funds intended for the purchase of fodder worth 9.7 billion rupees at the time
NEW DELHI (AA) - In a significant ruling on Monday, seasoned politician and lawmaker Lalu Prasad Yadav, leader of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) party, a key constituent of the Congress-led ruling coalition, was convicted of misusing state funds in a case dating back to 1996, when he served as chief minister of Bihar State.
Yadav, along with 41 others, was found guilty of misusing some 370 million rupees worth of public funds.
The case was filed against Yadav in 1996 for the alleged embezzlement of funds intended for the purchase of fodder worth 9.7 billion rupees at the time (which today amounts to some 20 billion rupees or about $33 billion).
Huge amounts of government money were allegedly used to pay for cattle fodder, medicines and fictitious bills.
The ruling was delivered before a packed courtroom in the city of Ranchi with Yadav, 66, present.
The sentence will be decided by the court on Thursday.
Yadav's lawyer had unsuccessfully petitioned to transfer the presiding judge.
The RJD has accused the judge of bias against Yadav due to his association with a senior minister in the current Bihar government led by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.
Yadav had to resign in 1997 after being formally charged in the fodder scam, immediately placing his wife, Rabri Devi, to the post of chief minister.
After ruling Bihar for 15 years, Yadav's RJD lost the election to Kumar in 2005, thus bringing an end to the party's rule of the northern state.
An immediate consequence of the conviction is that Yadav, a sitting member of parliament, will have to give up his seat in the assembly, according to a recent Supreme Court ruling.
In July, the Supreme Court ruled that any member of parliament or the state legislature must vacate his/her elected office if found guilty of a criminal offence carrying a sentence of two or more years in prison.
Last week, the Congress-led coalition government passed an ordinance in an effort to overrule the verdict.
On Friday, the ordinance was bitterly criticized by Rahul Gandhi, vice-president of Congress and scion of the prominent Gandhi family.
Gandhi had termed the ordinance "complete nonsense," saying it should be "torn up and thrown away."
The government is expected to reconsider the ordinance at an October 3 Cabinet meeting.
At a Sunday party meeting, RJD Parliamentarian Prabhunath Singh said that if Yadav went to jail it would be good for the party.
"Whenever Laluji goes to jail, the party becomes stronger," Singh suggested. "After his 1977 campaign against the Emergency, he became an MP."
"He came to power for the third time in Bihar after going to jail," Singh said.
"We want him to go to jail; let him go...now we will come back to power in Bihar," he added.