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Indian ex-minister guilty of corruption
Publication Date : 01-10-2013
Former federal railways minister Lalu Prasad Yadav was convicted in a corruption case and is set to become the first high-profile politician to lose his parliamentary seat under a new court ruling barring convicted politicians from holding office.
Yadav, a regional chieftain and a close ally of the Congress party, was found guilty along with 44 others of committing criminal conspiracy and embezzling government funds worth 380 million rupees (US$6 million) meant for cattle fodder in 1996 when he was chief minister of Bihar.
Yadav, a normally talkative politician, avoided the media and was driven to jail from the court house. The court is set to announce his sentence on Thursday but he faces three to seven years in jail.
"Lalu has been found guilty of criminal conspiracy, corruption and cheating," A.K. Singh, a lawyer for the Central Bureau of Investigation, told reporters.
The judgment comes as the Manmohan Singh government passed an ordinance through the Cabinet to skirt the Supreme Court ruling barring convicted politicians from office.
The speed with which the government passed the ordinance over the last week led to speculation that it was done to help Yadav, who is not just a close ally but also a politician held in high esteem by Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
But the government is likely to withdraw the ordinance following public criticism of the decision by Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, who called it a piece of "nonsense" and suggested it should be "torn up and thrown away".
President Pranab Mukherjee is also understood to have expressed his reservation over the ordinance. Prime Minister Singh, who is set to chair a Cabinet meeting this week, is likely to overturn it.
The Bharatiya Janata Party welcomed the court ruling, calling it historic, while the Congress said it respected the decision of the court.
"(The) law has taken its own course. We have respect for the court," Congress leader Rashid Alvi said.
Members of Yadav's party Rashtriya Janata Dal said that the party would appeal the decision in a higher court once the sentence was known.
Activists who had been campaigning for a clean-up of the political system said Yadav's case would send a vital message.
"This is part of the clean-up process," said Dr Sandeep Shastri, a political analyst and pro vice-chancellor of Jain University. "We are moving into an important phase. Public resentment against acts of corruption is high at this moment."
Yadav, a colourful and charismatic Indian politician, is a master political survivor who ruled the impoverished state of Bihar for 15 years.
He resigned as chief minister of Bihar in 1997 and instead installed his wife Rabri Devi, a housewife, as the chief minister and continued to rule the state by proxy.
In recent years the 65-year-old has lost his political clout, as his rival Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal U has turned around the fortunes of Bihar and stamped out criminal activity, which was a staple of the Lalu years.
"In recent years he saw himself less as a state politician and more as a Member of Parliament," said Shastri.