A Delhi court on Monday granted bail to RJD chief Lalu Prasad, his wife Rabri Devi and son Tejashwi Yadav in a money laundering case related to the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) scam.
Special Judge Arun Bhardwaj granted relief to each of the accused persons on a personal bond of Rs 1 lakh and surety of like amounts. The court had on January 19 extended the interim bail granted to them which ended on Monday. The case relates to alleged money laundering in granting the operational contract of two IRCTC hotels to a private firm. The court had earlier granted bail to them in the IRCTC scam case filed by the CBI. According to the charge sheet filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), between 2004 and 2014, a conspiracy was hatched in pursuance of which BNR hotels of the Indian Railways, located in Puri and Ranchi, were first transferred to IRCTC and later, for its operations, maintenance and upkeep, given on lease to Sujata Hotels Private Limited, which is based in Patna, Bihar.
It is alleged that the tender process was rigged and manipulated and the conditions were tweaked to help the private party – Sujata Hotels. Based on the CBI case, the ED had also lodged a case of money laundering against Prasad, Devi, Yadav and others. Among others named in the chargesheet are – then group general managers of IRCTC V K Asthana and R K Goyal and Vijay Kochhar, Vinay Kochhar, both directors of Sujata Hotels and owners of Chanakya Hotel. However, Delight Marketing Company, now known as Lara Projects, and Sujata Hotels Private Limited have also been named as accused firms in the chargesheet.
In 2001, it was decided to handover the management of catering services of the Indian Railways, including of its hotels, to the IRCTC. Two such hotels BNR Hotels in Ranchi and Puri were also identified and a memorandum of understanding was signed between the railways and the IRCTC on March 19, 2004. According to an FIR filed by the CBI, Prasad, the then railway minister, entered into criminal conspiracy with the owner of Sujata Hotels, Sarla Gupta, wife of his close associate Prem Chand Gupta, a Rashtriya Janata Dal MP in Rajya Sabha, and IRCTC officials for “undue pecuniary advantage to himself and others”.
The probe agency also alleged that BNR hotels were transferred to Sujata Hotels through a “rigged and manipulated” tender process managed by P K Goyal, the then managing director of IRCTC. The CBI inquiry shows that the railways sought bids for developing, operating and maintaining Rail Ratna Hotels on September 16, 2006.
The probe agency has alleged that Prasad was aware about the whole process and was keeping a track of the tender proceedings. It surfaced that while over 15 bid documents were received for both the hotels, IRCTC had no records of bidders other than Sujata Hotels. It was also alleged that with an intention to render undue pecuniary gains to Sujata Hotels, the bid of another hotel was deliberately and unreasonably given low marks under technical evaluation.
Prasad became Bihar’s chief minister in 1990, but had to resign in 1997 following corruption charges in the multi-crore rupees fodder scam. From 1997 to 2005 his wife Devi was the chief minister of the state and was replaced by JD(U) president Nitish Kumar. Prasad also served as railway minister from 2004 to 2009. The RJD again came back to power after forging an alliance with its bitter rival Janata Dal (United), led by Kumar, in 2015, and Tejashwi Yadav became the deputy chief minister. However, Kumar parted ways from the RJD in July last year.
The RJD chief has been serving sentence in Ranchi jail since December 2017 following his conviction in fodder scam cases. Earlier this month, the Jharkhand High court had rejected the bail plea of Prasad in three fodder scam cases.