A special Central Bureau of Investigation court on Wednesday ordered the registration of criminal cases against former Union minister and journalist Arun Shourie, ex-bureaucrat Pradeep Baijal and three other people in connection with alleged corruption involving the sale of a government-run hotel in Rajasthan in 2002, Hindustan Times reported.
The case is related to the sale of the Laxmi Vilas Palace Hotel in Udaipur to Bharat Hotels Limited, which now operates the LaLit Hotels. It was earlier managed by the Indian Tourism Development Corporation.
The special CBI court in Jodhpur said that the hotel was valued at over Rs 252 crore but sold at a huge loss for Rs 7.5 crore, NDTV reported. Shourie served as the Disinvestment Minister in Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Cabinet at the time of the sale.
The court was looking into a closure report filed by the CBI, in which it said that there was no evidence against the people named in the case. Special CBI judge Pooran Kumar Sharma raised questions about the report. “Prima facie, it appears that the then minister Arun Shourie and then secretary Pradeep Baijal misused their offices and caused a loss of Rs 244 crore to the central government in the deal,” the judge said, according to Hindustan Times.
He added: “The CBI is a reputed agency of the country; closure report by it despite facts pointing towards criminality is a cause of concern.”
The CBI’s report, which was accessed by NDTV, said that the sale of the hotel had caused a loss of Rs 143.48 crore to the government. The investigation agency, however, shifted the blame to a private firm named Kanti Karamsey, accusing it of undervaluing the property. The CBI said that the property was valued at Rs 7.85 crore and hence the reserve price was fixed at Rs 6.12 crore.
Shourie said he would file a review petition in the Rajasthan High Court against the order. He added that an entire committee looked at the proposal for the evaluation and that due process was followed. “When you dispose of a property the evaluation is based on various factors – the land rate, possibility of growth, business potential, assets and liabilities,” he told NDTV. “All these are studied and were studied by not one man but by a firm appointed by the government.”
Shourie added that the judge did not cite grounds for dismissing the CBI closure report, adding: “Non-bailable warrants have been issued like we are terrorists, murderers and rapists”.
Apart from Shourie and Baijal, the court ordered criminal cases against the Chairperson and Managing Director of Bharat Hotels Limited Jyotsna Suri, former managing director of investment firm Lazard India Limited Ashish Guha and Kantilal Karamsey Vikamsey, who is the head of Kanti Karamsey. It said that they should be booked under sections 420 (cheating) and 120B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code and section 13 (1) D of the Prevention of Corruption Act.
The CBI had first filed a case related to the hotel sale on August 13, 2014, on the basis of a preliminary inquiry that accused Baijal, who was the disinvestment secretary, of misusing his position.