Citing illness and old age, Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad, convicted in a fodder scam case along with 10 others, on Friday sought leniency from the Central Bureau of Investigation court which will pronounce the quantum of punishment on Saturday.
Lalu Prasad appeared before the court of CBI special judge Shiv Pal Singh for the sentencing hearing through videoconferencing from Birsa Munda central jail and in a written plea sought leniency due to his illness and old age, his counsel Chittaranjan Prasad said. The 69-year-old RJD leader is lodged in the central jail since his conviction on December 23.
"The judge said he would pronounce the judgement at 2 pm tomorrow," Chittaranjan Prasad told reporters after emerging from the videoconferencing hall in Ranchi.
The court had convicted Lalu Prasad for offences of cheating with criminal conspiracy under the Indian Penal Code and the Prevention of Corruption Act.
Under the sections, Lalu Prasad can be sentenced to a minimum jail term of one year and maximum of seven years, according to Chittaranjan Prasad.
According to legal experts, Lalu Prasad would be able to apply for bail immediately at the lower court itself if the quantum of sentence happens to be less than three years.
The court concluded arguments on the quantum of punishment against Lalu Prasad and 10 others in connection with the withdrawal of Rs 89.27 lakh from Deogarh Treasury between 1990 and 1994 when he was the chief minister of Bihar.
Earlier, he was awarded five years imprisonment in 2013 in a case relating to fraudulent withdrawal of Rs 33.61 crore from the Chaibasa treasury.
The RJD supremo was later released on bail granted by the Supreme Court.
Yadav faces another three fodder scam cases for illegal withdrawal of Rs 3.97 crore from the Dumka Treasury, Rs 36 crore from the Chaibasa Treasury and Rs 184 crore from the Doranda treasury.
Besides Lalu Prasad, the court on Friday heard arguments on the punishment of RJD leader R K Rana, former IAS officers Phoolchand Singh, Mahesh Prasad, former government official Subir Bhattacharya, suppliers/transporters Tripurari Mohan Prasad, Sushil Kumar Sinha, Sunil Kumar Sinha, Raja Ram Joshi, Sanjay Agarwal and Sunil Gandhi.
The court had heard pre-sentencing arguments in alphabetical order on Thursday of former IAS officer Beck Julius, Gopinath Das, RJD leader Jagdish Sharma, transporter/suppliers Jyoti Kumar Jha and Krishna Kumar Prasad.
It had deferred announcing the punishment against Lalu Prasad and others for the second consecutive day on Thursday.
The court had on December 23 convicted all the 16 accused in the fodder scam while acquitting six others, including former Bihar chief minister Jagannath Mishra.
In 1996, the Patna high court had ordered an inquiry into the fodder scam cases and a charge sheet in the Deogarh treasury case was filed against 38 people on October 27, 1997. Eleven of them died and three turned approvers while two other accused confessed and were convicted in 2006-07, a CBI official said.
On September 30, 2013, Yadav, Jagannath Mishra and several others had been convicted in another case pertaining to illegal withdrawal of Rs 37.7 crore from Chaibasa Treasury in the early 1990s. The conviction on December 23 last is the second in the scam.
RJD leaders, meanwhile, asserted that none from the party made telephone calls to the special CBI judge at Ranchi as claimed by him but felt political opponents may have done so in the guise of RJD supporters.
The assertions were made by Shivanand Tiwary and senior party leader Jagdanand Singh.
Judge Shiv Pal Singh, before deferring the pronouncement on quantum of punishment on Lalu Prasad yesterday, commented in his presence about him receiving phone calls from the RJD chief's well-wishers.
"I came to know about it (special CBI judge Singh making the aforementioned statement in court) through media reports. I can say with certainty that no RJD leader would resort to such a step, as everyone knows that such desperation can backfire", Tiwary told reporters in Patna.
He also said "the possibility of our political opponents making such a call in the guise of RJD supporters cannot be ruled out. They may indulge in such mischief to queer the pitch for Lalu".
The RJD vice president hoped the quantum of sentence in the Deogarh case will be less than the one awarded to him in 2013 since the amount involved in the present case is "much smaller" than the previous case.
Photograph: PTI Photo