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More Questions For Arun Jaitley as Kejriwal Defamation Case Continues

 

A large part of Ram Jethmalani’s cross examination of Jaitley focused on alleged misappropriation of funds during his time at the DDCA.

Finance minister Arun Jaitley. Credit: Reuters/Stringer/Files

Finance minister Arun Jaitley. Credit: Reuters/Stringer/Files

New Delhi: Senior advocate Ram Jethmalani on Monday sought to drag Prime Minister Narendra Modi to court in Union minister Arun Jaitley’s defamation case against Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and five others. Referring to the apparent loss of reputation Jaitley had suffered according to his plea, Jethmalani asked him, “You have been serving as a minister in the government of India and so the best person to vouch for your reputation is India’s PM. Are you prepared to examine him as a witness (in this case)?”

Jethmalani tried to corner Jaitley with this proposition as he resumed his cross examination in the case before the Delhi high court after a gap of over two months. As in the past two days of cross examination in March, Jethmalani sought to seek Jaitley’s response on how his reputation had been damaged and asked, “Since you claim to have a great reputation, are you examining any witness who can confirm this reputation of yours?” He went on to pose his question on Modi.

On not getting a satisfactory reply, Jethmalani said, “”My submission is that Mr Jaitley is a man with absolutely no reputation, and therefore it cannot be harmed”. The cross examination also saw Jethmalani grilling Jaitley on his role as president of the Delhi and District Cricket Association. He also sought from Jaitley the minutes of a meeting of the association to discuss donations and the naming of a stadium.

When Jethmalani asked Jaitley where the “original copy of the minutes” were, saying what was presented was only a photocopy, the latter replied that he was not aware of this as he was no longer with the DDCA.

Jethmalani also questioned Jaitley on why, during his period as head of DDCA, the government of India’s proposal to fund construction of a new DDCA stadium if it was named after Syama Prasad Mukherjee was not considered. At this, Jaitley responded that the proposal was not backed by any written document and that is why the DDCA did not consider it seriously.

Jethmalani then asked Jaitley if he remembered whether on some pretext or the other he had said that the Centre’s proposal for funding and renaming the stadium need not be considered. Jaitley then replied that a considerable amount of time had lapsed since the proposal came and therefore he could not say so. But, he said, he thought that “self funding of sport is a better idea”.

In order to show that Jaitley probably wasn’t interested in government funding as he wanted the funding aspect to be handled by the DDCA, Jethmalani went deeper into the issue and asked Jaitley if he could have resolved the issue of funding by talking to people in the NDA government, as the proposal came in 2003. This way, the senior advocate said, the matter could have been resolved amicably.

Jethmalani then added that it was only because Jaitley rejected funding by the government of India that there was Rs 57 crore worth of misappropriation of funds during construction of the new DDCA stadium.

His averments during the over-two-hour examination were objected to by Jaitley’s lawyers on a number of occasions. They also complained about Jethmalani wasting the court’s time by making unsubstantiated insinuations.

At one point, when they accused Jethmalani of wasting time, he said that he had “better things to do” than them, providing the packed courtroom with a moment of lightness.

Then resuming his arguments in order to pin Jaitley for his alleged role in the misappropriation of funds during construction of the stadium, Jethmalani asked why was it that many facilities constructed in the stadium were not under a tender. To this, Jaitley replied that he had not personally supervised the construction.

On being probed further by Jethmalani as to why “no tender was issued for construction of additional floor and other items”, Jaitley replied that he was not a member of the construction committee, but had been informed by it that “open or limited tenders were carried out”.

Jethmalani then said while a total expenditure of Rs 114 crore was incurred, tenders worth only Rs 25 crore had been put out whereas Rs 90 crore was spent without any tendering process.

The Union minister responded that the total cost of Rs 114 crore compared well with the cost of stadium construction during the 2010 Commonwealth Games, thereby indicating that there was no misappropriation of funds.

Jaitley had filed the defamation case against Kejriwal and five other AAP leaders – Kumar Vishwas, Ashutosh, Sanjay Singh, Raghav Chadha and Deepak Bajpai – after they had accused him of financial mismanagement during his 13-year stint as the president of the DDCA. Apart from filing a criminal complaint, Jaitley had also filed a civil defamation case in which he had sought Rs 10 crore in damages.

Jethmalani had cross examined Jaitley over two days, on March 6 and March 7. On March 6, he had questioned Jaitley’s belief that his reputation was “irreparable and unquantifiable”, wondering aloud if it had something to do with his “personal feelings of greatness”. In his reply, Jaitley had contended, “I don’t object to political statements but this was the first time a statement was made questioning my integrity.”

The following day, Jethmalani posed a number of tough questions to Jaitley including on why he was singling out Kejriwal. The matter was then listed for May 15.

During the intermittent period, it came to light that Jethmalani had sent a Rs 3.5-crore bill for appearing for Kejriwal despite having initially offered to appear for free. At this, the BJP had demanded that Kejriwal should pay the bill on his own as it was his personal legal battle. It also claimed that Jaitley had foot his own bill. Jethmalani had then claimed that he had given a concession to the Delhi chief minister. He also offered to defend Kejriwal for free if the latter could not pay.