An officer's account

Print edition : August 13, 2004

A former police officer creates a flutter by stating in court that senior politicians are involved in the stamp paper scam and that the S.M. Krishna government paid Rs.20 crores to forest brigand Veerappan for the release of film actor Rajkumar.

in Bangalore

ASSISTANT Commissioner of Police T.G. Sangram Singh, now retired and under arrest in connection with the multi-crore Telgi fake stamp paper scam, opened a can of worms when he made a suo motu statement in a Bangalore city court on July 8 that he had been made the fall guy in the case and blamed it on former Karnataka Chief Minister S.M. Krishna's attempt to protect Cabinet colleague R. Roshan Baig. He also said that in connection with the kidnapping of Kannada film actor Rajkumar by forest brigand Veerappan (July-November 2000) he had visited Chennai twice and handed over Rs.20 crores to film actor Rajnikant's manager (to be sent to Veerappan).

Former Assistant Commissioner of Police Sangram Singh being produced in court in Bangalore on July 8.-BHAGYA PRAKASH K

Besides Krishna, he named Union Minister for Urban Development and Parliamentary Affairs Ghulam Nabi Azad, Karnataka Minister for Water Resources M. Mallikarjuna Kharge, former Karnataka Minister D.K. Shivakumar and Krishna's son-in-law V.G. Siddarath as those instrumental in making him a scapegoat in order to protect Baig.

The accusations, made in the First Additional City Metropolitan Magistrate Court, sent the Congress, which leads a coalition government in Karnataka, scurrying for cover as the BJP-led Opposition stalled proceedings in the State legislature and demanded Kharge's resignation. Chief Minister Dharam Singh said he would not bow to a demand made on the basis of a statement made by an accused in the scam. He reiterated that he stood by all the decisions of the previous government, in which he was the Public Works Department Minister, and that "no ransom was paid to anyone".

The political opposition in the State had all along alleged Roshan Baig's involvement in the stamp paper scam and, despite Baig's denials to the investigating officers, demanded his ouster. Roshan Baig's brother Dr. Rehan Baig was arrested in December on the charge of aiding Abdul Kareem Telgi, the prime accused, and is lodged in a Pune jail. He has been charged with managing Telgi's front organisation Metro Corporation.

It is widely believed that Telgi had many backers both in the police force and in the political establishment in the State. According to BJP leaders, this was the main reason why the Krishna government was reluctant to hand over the case to the Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) despite being advised to do so by former Director-General of Police H.T. Sangliana, who headed the investigations that led to Telgi's arrest. The Krishna government defended its decision on the grounds that the State's police force was "doing a good job of unearthing the scam" and that the then Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led government at the Centre could have used the investigations for its own political ends. The Krishna government set up the Stamp Investigation Team (Stampit) of the State police, which spearheaded the investigations for over two years, "filing 13 charge-sheets against 69 accused and arresting 59 of the 77 people accused". A special fast track court to try the cases was also constituted.

Though Stampit officials said in December that they had identified certain politicians from the Congress and the Janata Dal and a number of police officers who had helped Telgi, they were unable to make any arrests. The only significant arrests that Stampit made, in December, were of P.N. Jayasimha, a former Superintendent of the Bangalore Central Prison, and Nanjappa, an Assistant Superintendent of the same prison. The first government officials to be arrested in the scam, they were charged with "colluding and conspiring" with Telgi in running his fake stamp paper business from the precincts of the Bangalore Central Prison. Police investigations showed that Telgi was permitted to use mobile phones and laptops freely from his cell. Stampit's efforts also led to the Krishna government suspending Sangram Singh in February, eight days before his retirement.

Additional Director-General of Police R. Sri Kumar, who headed Stampit, said it would not be right to say that the political establishment had stymied Stampit's efforts to make arrests or file charge-sheets. Said Sri Kumar: "We could not have made arrests without ample evidence. Only after we had built up a case of criminal liability against an accused could we have arrested them. In the case of Sangram Singh, we gave a report to the (then) government and they suspended him in February. The CBI arrested him in July. Given more time we certainly could have taken the investigations to their logical conclusion. Many more revelations are bound to be made."

Investigations into the scam were taken out of the State government's purview in March 2004 when the Supreme Court ruled that of the 158 cases registered all over India the CBI would investigate 48, including 10 from Karnataka. The CBI arrested Sangram Singh and two of his former colleagues, Inspectors Vali Basha and V.A. Khan, on July 7 on the charges of conniving with Telgi in the sale of fake stamp paper and subverting investigations. The charges pertain to 1997-98 when all the three officers were attached to the City Market police station.

According to the CBI, Sangram Singh, who was then the Station House Officer, received Rs.10 lakhs for the release of Telgi's brother Raheem Telgi. Khan is alleged to have received Rs.2 lakhs from Telgi in 1998 for foisting a case against a group that was trying to run a parallel stamp paper racket. Basha filed the charge-sheet in the case. The CBI is trying to find out from where the fake stamps, which were shown as seized, were sourced to Basha.

The CBI is said to have questioned, among others, Deputy Inspector-General of Police (Prisons) Jayaramaiah, suspended Deputy Superintendent of Police K.M. Muddaiah and retired DySP Hunumanthappa. CBI sources said charge-sheets would be filed in the case "within a couple of weeks".

Legal experts opine that Sangram Singh may turn approver. His lawyer has sought permission for him to make a confessional statement under Section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code, stating that the CBI has so far recorded only 20 per cent of what his client wants to disclose. The request has been posted for July 28.

On July 13, Sangram Singh alleged in the court that Stampit officials Sri Kumar and Deputy Inspector-General of Police Raghavendra H. Auradhkar had destroyed vital documents linking politicians to the scam before handing over the cases to the CBI. Krishna and Kharge had promised to make Sri Kumar Bangalore City Police Commissioner if he protected politicians, Sangram Singh alleged. Said Sri Kumar: "It is now up to the CBI to find this out. They must also find out whether the destruction was deliberate or otherwise."

Meanwhile, on July 14 the CBI raided the offices and residences of two government doctors, K.M. Chennakeshava and Jnanendrappa. They had allegedly issued false medical certificates to Telgi so as to enable him to get better treatment in prison, or even bail.

The CBI has arrested Chennakeshava, who is the Administrative Officer of the Victoria Hospital, Bangalore. Jnanendrappa, who is a professor of medicine, has admitted himself to a hospital in Bangalore. The CBI has also questioned Dr. Sunil Chavan, Medical Superintendent of the Parappana Agrahara Central Prison, where Telgi has been lodged for almost two years.

BEFORE entering the court an emotional Sangram Singh told presspersons that he had gone to Chennai carrying Rs.20 crores meant for Veerappan at the behest of Krishna, Shivakumar, the then Additional Director-General of Police (Intelligence) P.S. Ramanujam, and the then Deputy Inspector-General of Police (Intelligence) T. Jayaprakash.

Notwithstanding the government's denials, the common perception is that the Krishna government, desperate to secure the release of Rajkumar, paid money to Veerappan. Sangram Singh has found a supporter in his former boss Sangliana, who was in charge of the Veerappan operations for a short while and is now a BJP member of Parliament. According to Sangliana, Sangram Singh's allegations on the involvement of Congress politicians in the stamp paper scam and the Veerappan ransom payoff "are 100 per cent correct".

Talking to Frontline, Sangliana said that he saw no reason why Sangram Singh should lie: "He was an officer who always liked to give the impression that he could be relied upon to undertake any clandestine mission. They [the political establishment] have used him and discarded him. After I visited the terrain in which Veerappan operates I gave the Krishna government a six-page letter and one of the points I made was that Veerappan should be given terms to surrender. The government didn't agree. They were probably afraid that all these issues (ransom, and who paid it) would come out if Veerappan surrendered, so they want him killed. Veerappan is also alleged to have paid the election campaign bills of a number of politicians. All this would come out if Veerappan surrendered."

Former Karnataka Director-General of Police C. Dinakar, who was at the helm during the Rajkumar kidnapping, has also stated, in his book Veerappan's Prize Catch:Rajkumar that a huge ransom was paid to secure the actor's release. But questions remain about the amount and source of the money and the channels through which it reached Veerappan. Sangram Singh's allegations could provide some of the answers.

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