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27 Dec 2016

Fuel for bribe charge probe - Long 'political' list exists: CBI ex-chief

Ranjit Sinha
Imran Ahmed Siddiqui, TT, New Delhi, Dec. 26: Ranjit Sinha, who was CBI chief in 2013 when the agency searched an office of the Aditya Birla Group in the capital, has said the investigators found a "political diary" with a list of nearly 1,000 purported payoffs to politicians from virtually across the spectrum.
The confirmation brings under stress the BJP's assertion that there is no need to probe the corporate bribery allegations that have triggered Opposition questions directed at the Prime Minister.
"While searching the office (of Hindalco, an Aditya Birla Group company), our officers laid their hands on a 'political diary' that contained a list of nearly 1,000 payments purportedly made to politicians and MPs from almost all across the political spectrum," Sinha told The Telegraph today.
The diary and entries found in a laptop in the Birla office are now at the centre of a storm after Rahul Gandhi asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to make it clear whether he had taken money from the company when he was chief minister. The Prime Minister and the BJP have pooh-poohed the charges and described them as baseless but have not yet responded to the specific questions raised by the Congress leader.
Asked about Rahul's question whether money had been paid to Modi, the former CBI chief declined to comment.
"First and foremost, don't ask me those names," Sinha had said at the outset of the interaction with this reporter.
Although the former CBI director did not disclose any names, his confirmation that the names of politicians did figure in the diary assumes significance against the backdrop of an explanation by a Birla executive that the words "Gujarat CM" - against which was written "25 cr (12 Done - rest?)" - stood for "Gujarat Alkali Chemicals".
The disclosure that several politicians' names were mentioned in the diary comes amid a demand for a wider probe into the issue. A case is pending before the Supreme Court, which has sought evidence proving the law had been broken.
Asked whether a probe should be ordered into the contents of the diary, Sinha said: "Why not?"
He added: "I do not know about the progress of the investigation and what happened thereafter."
Weeks before his retirement in December 2014, the former CBI director had been asked by the Supreme Court to recuse himself from the 2G spectrum allocation case following allegations that he had met some of the accused. The Birla office on Parliament Street was searched as part of the coal-block allocation probe.
The laptop where an email with the words "Gujarat CM" was found was allegedly being used by a Birla executive named Subhendu Amitabh, who told questioners he had meant "Gujarat Alkali Chemicals".
This reporter tried to contact Subhendu at his Parliament Street office, the same place that had been searched in 2013. "Sir does not want to talk. Please talk to our corporate communication office in Mumbai," his personal assistant, Bhuwan Chandra, said.
Calls made to the Aditya Birla Group spokesperson in Mumbai failed to yield any comment. The group had earlier reserved comment, saying the matter was sub judice.
The BJP has been saying the controversy is a "dead horse", pointing out that Congress leader Sheila Dikshit too has rubbished the documents. Tonight Dikshit sought to control the damage by toeing the Congress line, saying "the ball is in the court of the PMO and others".
But the documents that allegedly link Dikshit to the controversy are attributed to Sahara, not the Birla group firm.
Asked tonight, BJP spokesperson Shrikant Sharma dismissed the need for a probe. "The matter is before the court and the court has already observed there is no proof. Baseless allegations are being made to weaken the government," he said.
Sinha, the former CBI chief, said the documents had been submitted to the apex court.
"Everybody is talking about that 'political diary' these days. As far as I can remember, we had submitted the diary and other documents before the Supreme Court in a sealed envelope," he said.
The diary and Rs 25 crore in cash were found on October 16, 2013, after the CBI had registered an FIR naming Aditya Birla Group chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla over the allotment of a Odisha coal block to Hindalco.
The contents of the diary, the former CBI director said, were later shared with the income-tax department.
A CBI officer said: "There were three categories of entries in the diary and one of them was related to political donations to politicians. It also had details of payments made to government functionaries. Some entries were vague."
"The Birla diary bears an uncanny resemblance to the Jain hawala diaries found in 1996," recalled another agency official.
Although key politicians were cleared in the Jain hawala case, the Supreme Court had said a thorough probe should follow any seizure of documents by government agencies showing illegal payments to government functionaries.

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