LIFE Mission project: Kerala High Court rejects plea of CEO against CBI probe

The court observed that the facts involved in the case reveal ‘a high-profile intellectual fraud played’ to avoid audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) and get kickbacks and gratification.

The Kerala High Court on Tuesday dismissed the petitions filed by U.V. Jose, CEO, LIFE Mission, and Santhosh Eappen, MD of Unitac, a contracting company and the first accused seeking to quash the FIR registered by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into the irregularities in the implementation of the LIFE Mission project in Wadakkacherry in Thrissur district.

Justice P. Somarajan while dismissing the petitions made it clear that the stay on the further probes by the CBI against Mr. Jose would stand vacated.

The court observed that the facts involved in the case reveal “a high-profile intellectual fraud played” to avoid audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) and get kickbacks and gratification. The IAS officers should exercise “checks and balances” while formulating and implementing policy decisions in accordance with the law in force. They were bound to scrutinise the legal validity of a policy decision in the light of the laws in force and constitutional requirement. It was therefore up to the civil servants to implement it by due processor law.

According to the LIFE Mission CEO, who is an IAS officer, he had no role in the selection of the contractors. It was, in fact, the donor who had chosen the construction company. The investigation by the CBI was an “abuse of process of the law”.

He further contended that the charges in the FIR were “wholly malicious, baseless”, and fuelled by “ulterior political motives”. Counsel for the CEO pointed out that there was nothing suspicious in the project. The Vigilance and Anti-corruption Bureau (VACB) was already conducting an investigation into alleged corruption in the LIFE mission housing project. The registration of cases by the CBI, transgressing into the States’ power, was a challenge to the very federal structure envisaged by the Constitution. The CBI could not conduct a roving inquiry to find out whether the accused had committed any offence or not.

The housing project was funded by the UAE Red Crescent, a charitable organisation and it was the sponsors which had selected Unitac and Sane Ventures for giving contract for constructing the apartments under the project. Neither the State government nor Life Mission had any role in the selection of contractors, the counsel for the petitioners contended.

The CBI argued that the statements of the witnesses and the documents collected prima facie pointed to the role of senior State government functionaries in the conspiracy to receive foreign contribution and kickbacks through Swapna Suresh, key accused in the gold smuggling case. It added that the investigation conducted so far had brought out only the tip of the iceberg and further efforts were needed for unravelling the conspiracy for violating the provisions of Foreign Contribution Regulation Act and other offences, if any.

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