Manish Tiwari/ Chandigarh:
Down memory lane
SC stayed ÔÇÿgag orderÔÇÖ issued by Nehra Commission
The Apex CourtÔÇÖs intervention helped publication of details of Swiss bank transactions in the name of Punjab Intranet Company
As pressure mounted on then Chief Minister, Capt Amarinder Singh to come clean on the issue of the alleged role of his son, Raninder Singh in stashing away funds in Swiss bank accounts, the Congress government in Punjab decided to set up the Justice B S Nehra Commission to enquire into the ÔÇÿtruthfulnessÔÇÖ of the news report that appeared in Hindustan Times on December 28, 2003. Later, I got to know that then Punjab Chief Secretary, Jai Singh Gill played an important role in the selection of the head of the Commission.
The Capt Amarinder government, as well as we in HT, were clear about the ÔÇÿscopeÔÇÖ of the inquiry. Still, after an advertisement was issued by the Commission seeking information from the public, we decided to assist the Commission in finding out the truth. Fully aware of the scope of the inquiry and the interest being shown by Justice Nehra in ÔÇÿunearthingÔÇÖ the┬átruthÔÇÖ, we decided to hand over only a couple of documents to him to mark our presence, and not part with all the documents we had.
For us, the issue was all but over. We moved on till Raninder decided to invite a ÔÇÿselect categoryÔÇÖ of journalists, some considered close to one of the Chief MinisterÔÇÖs aides, and trash the news report. That is the time when I decided to visit Europe to conduct further investigations and meet RaninderÔÇÖs one-time friend, Dutchman Leonard A Freeke, and gather more information about the case since at stake were my honour, credibility, and most important ÔÇô the truth!
Back then, the Congress government had posted a very ÔÇÿresourcefulÔÇÖ IG in the Intelligence Wing, who was always suspected of keeping tabs on and listening to othersÔÇÖ conversations. The Opposition as well as Congress leaders had been openly voicing their concern that their phone was being tapped by state Intelligence. While covering Punjab police, we could often see the IG fiddling with almost a dozen mobile phones, which he would generally keep in his pockets and office drawers. Thus, I took all precautions before flying to Europe for further investigations into the Punjab Intranet case.
After gathering startling information that included Swiss bank account details, the newspaper planned a series of reports on how funds were routed from India to Swiss bank accounts in the name of the Punjab Intranet Company (PIC).
Several days passed, but the news report did not appear. It got into the rigmarole of getting vetted by lawyers in Delhi, including some top Supreme Court lawyers. Finally, the organisation decided to carry the story, but to our utter surprise, we received an order passed by the Justice Nehra Commission, directing HT not to publish any further story on the Punjab Intranet issue. The Commission further directed us to hand over to it all documents we had in our possession.
Our patience was running out. The sources who had shared documents and Swiss bank records also started questioning my credibility and accusing me of entering into some sort of a ÔÇÿdealÔÇÖ. But this was not true. The newspaper management took the unprecedented decision to
approach the Supreme Court, seeking a stay of the Justice Nehra CommisisonÔÇÖs ÔÇÿgag orderÔÇÖ and allowing us to publish the news report on the Chief MinisterÔÇÖs son Raninder. Two top lawyers, Arun Jaitley, now the Union Finance Minister, and Mukul Rohatgi, now Attorney General of India, appeared in the Supreme Court on behalf of the HT. On October 15, 2004, the Apex Court stayed the order passed by the Nehra Commission and allowed us to publish the report. Subsequently, the HT decided to carry the second major news break on the foreign currency transactions┬átitled ÔÇÿScam InterruptedÔÇÖ on October 16, 2004.
In the same edition, the newspaper also carried another story on how the Justice Nehra Commission tried to gag key witnesses who wanted to depose before it and tell the truth.
It was obvious that the Chief Minister did not take kindly to the reports and even held media briefings in Delhi and Chandigarh to deny the allegations. The Opposition, however, launched a vociferous attack on Capt Amarinder and his son, and demanded a probe by a Central agency, such as the CBI or the Enforcement Directorate.
Leonard Freeke, who admitted having received money from India in his account too, was willing to share details with Indian authorities on the Intranet scam and wrote letters expressing his desire to depose before any investigation agency to help unearth the truth. But nothing much happened.
An ED official told me a few years later that the investigation agency conducted a probe into the scam, but nothing could move till the Government allowed them to proceed further in the case.
For us, it had become old news. While I had moved on, the issue of foreign currency transactions that hogged the media limelight in 2004 has again come back to haunt Punjab Congress chief Capt Amarinder and his son Raninder.
The more things ÔÇÿchangeÔÇÖ, the more they stay the same!