Hours after being sentenced to four-year jail term, ex-Samata Party president Jaya Jaitly got a relief from the Delhi high court which on Thursday suspended her punishment in a corruption case related to a purported defence deal.
Jaitly's lawyers, who were ready with the appeal, rushed to the high court challenging her conviction and sentence for the offence of conspiracy under the Indian Penal Code and provision of the Prevention of Corruption Act and mentioned the matter for an urgent hearing.
Besides 78-year-old Jaitly, her former party colleague Gopal Pacherwal and Major General S P Murgai (retd) were awarded four-year jail term for corruption in a 2000-01 case related to a purported defence deal in morning by the trial court which also imposed a fine of Rs one lakh on them and directed the convicts to surrender before it by 5 pm on Thursday itself.
Lawyers for Murgai and Pacherwal moved the trial court which allowed them to surrender on August 3 and 5 respectively.
In the high court, Justice Suresh Kumar Kait, who was conducting the hearing through video conferencing, issued notice to the Central Bureau of Investigation and sought its response to the appeal which was admitted and will come up for hearing in due course.
"Keeping in view the facts recorded above and the fact that appellant (Jaitly) was not arrested in the present case, however, without commenting on the merits of the appeal, I am of the view that the appellant deserves suspension of sentence during the pendency of the appeal," Justice Kait said.
The high court released her on bail on furnishing a personal bond of Rs 50,000 with two sureties of the like amount to the satisfaction of the trial court and directed that Jaitly shall ensure her presence at the time of hearing of the appeal.
The three accused were held guilty of corruption and criminal conspiracy in the purported purchase of hand-held thermal imagers.
The case stemmed from 'Operation Westend' sting aired by news portal Tehelka in January 2001.
The trial court, while sentencing them, said they 'compromised the entire defence system of the country' and that there should be zero tolerance towards corruption in defence procurement deals as these have direct bearing upon the independence and sovereignty of the country.
Special CBI Judge Virender Bhat, who had convicted them on July 21, said the crime committed by the convicts was of 'highest degree' and they were no laymen but persons of status and means, and had not committed the crime due to any ignorance or lack of knowledge or under any duress.
Senior advocates Mukul Rohatgi and P P Malhotra argued before the high court that she was neither caught red-handed accepting the money nor was she a beneficiary of the money as alleged.
"The appellant was not arrested and faced the trial and continued to appear before the trial court as and when directed. In addition, during the present pandemic situation, the appeal is not likely to be heard, anytime soon, therefore, the sentence of the appellant may be suspended during pendency of the appeal," advocate Abhijat Bal and Vineet Malhotra, said.
Additional Solicitor General Chetan Sharma, representing CBI, said it cannot be stated, at this stage, whether Jaitly is a beneficiary or not, however, that will be taken into consideration at the time of disposal of the appeal.
The trial court said 'the crime was committed by them in pursuance to a well hatched conspiracy and upon due deliberations with each other', and termed the crime as 'a very serious' and 'having grave ramifications so far as the defence of our country is concerned'.
The convicts took money from the representative of a fictitious firm without bothering to ascertain whether the firm was actually in operation and whether its product sought to be inducted in the Indian Army was worth it, it observed.
It noted they chose to remain blindfolded on all vital aspects of concerned product of the fictitious firm only with a view to get some monetary enrichment and they compromised the entire defence system of the country which is a crime with very wide and huge repercussions for the entire nation and can't be dealt leniently.
"For their petty gains, the convicts sought to assist induction of a product of an unknown fictitious company into the Indian Army, which if done, would have made the Army immensely vulnerable and handicapped in the wake of an enemy attack.
"The very existence of our country would have come under threat," the trial court said, adding that it was no less than an attack on the independence of our country.
The convicts do not deserve any mercy, 'they deserve harshest sentence', it said, adding that any kind of mercy would be mockery of justice and sure to excite the fury of the society at large.
"The virus of corruption which has engulfed the entire fabric of our society, is becoming a major obstacle in the growth and development of our nation.
"In a democratic system, when the public offices and public institutions are misused for private advantage, they lose their legitimacy," it said.
It held that all the three accused, along with Surender Kumar Surekha (who later turned approver), were party to the criminal conspiracy that took place around December 2000 and January 2001 at Delhi.
It said while Jaitly accepted illegal gratification of Rs 2 lakh from Mathew Samuel, a representative of fictional company Westend International, Murgai received Rs 20,000.