On January 22, 2013, a special Indian court had convicted and sentenced Haryana Chief Minister Om Prakash Chautala, his son Ajay Chautala and eight others, including Vidya Dhar (Chautala's former Officer on Special Duty) and Badshami, to 10 years jail term for illegally recruiting 3,206 junior teachers in the year 2000. All of them were held guilty of cheating, forgery, using fake documents as genuine, conspiracy and for abusing their official position under Prevention of Corruption Act.
Judge to Chautala: “The moment big personalities are convicted, they spend more time in hospital than in prison but when they are seated at the place of power they never say they will not take the power because they are suffering from high-sounding diseases."
They were also involved, separately, in the so-called Haryanagate Scam involving thousands of dollars which embroiled Chaudhry
In Search of Chaudhry's Millions: From Haryana to High Court in Fiji
Fijileaks Editor: It all began in December 2005 when Victor Lal published ‘Haryanagate is no ‘Silly Matter’ in Fiji’s now defunct Daily Post. Responding to the heated exchanges in Parliament between Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase and Mahendra Chaudhry, Victor Lal wrote from Oxford a two part-series in the Daily Post challenging Chaudhry to answer some lingering questions regarding the money allegedly collected for him in Haryana:
(1) When did Chaudhry learn of the funds collected for him in his ancestral homeland?
(2) What did he do to encourage or stop the collection of funds?
(3) Why has Indo-Fiji Friendship Society (IFFS) issued denials and clarifications now and not Chaudhry or the FLP?
(4) Was Chaudhry patron-in-chief of the IFFS, as claimed by its secretary Sher Singh Badshami?
(5) What about allegations that thousands of dollars were also collected in Australia, US, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom?
The two part series titled “Haryanagate is no Silly Matter” was the beginning of Victor Lal’s long and meticulous search for “the Haryana millions”. Three years later, in 2008, Victor Lal published his final findings in the Sunday Sun, supported by documents, that Chaudhry was hiding $2million in Australia from FIRCA and the general public of Fiji. The revelation led to the abduction and deportation of Fiji Sun publisher Russell Hunter out of Fiji. The regime refused to sack Chaudhry, by then its Interim Finance Minister in the Bainimarama Cabinet. Ironcially, while the Australian government has lifted travel sanctions against regime members, Hunter remains a prohibited immigrant for telling the truth about Chaudhry's millions. Below is Victor Lal's original article in abridged form:
The FLP should suspend Chaudhry until the matter is satisfactorily resolved for his sake and the party’s political survival
By VICTOR LAL in Fiji's Daily Post, December 2005
IT WAS a sight that had shocked and annoyed many ordinary Indo-Fijians in August 2000, and has now come to haunt Mahendra Pal Chaudhry’s political career. One angered Indo-Fijian, after seeing Chaudhry in a green Hindu turban, with clapped lotus-like hands greeting the adoring crowd, wrote to the Fiji Times from Ba, calling upon Chaudhry to return permanently to Bahu Jamalpur, a village which lies on the outskirts of Rohtak town in Haryana, and from whence Chaudhry’s grandfather, Ram Nath, came in 1911 to Fiji as a bonded coolie labourer.
I thought the writer from Ba was slightly harsh on the recently deposed Prime Minister Chaudhry, who had just emerged from 56 days of captivity at the hands of the pseudo-Fijian nationalist George Speight. After all, it is very fashionable for political leaders, whether in the United States, Australia, New Zealand or elsewhere, to return to their ancestral roots. In Chaudhry’s case, it was doubly important for him to seek succour and help from ‘Mother India’, then unfortunately run by an extreme right-wing Hindu Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) government. Unlike thousands of us who can no longer trace our roots and relatives in India, I thought Chaudhry was uniquely placed to exploit the ‘Haryana connection’ if it helped mitigate the Indo-Fijians sufferings, lootings, beatings, rapes, and religious vandalism in the aftermath of the Speight coup. I was not aware that funds were already being collected even before Chaudhry had landed in Haryana. It also seems, if we are to believe Chaudhry that he himself was, and until recently still was not, aware of any funds collected in the so-called ‘Haryanagate’ scandal.
Chaudhry in Harayana land
In August 2000 Chaudhry arrived in New Delhi on a 10-day visit at the invitation of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Chaudhry had arrived by a Singapore Airlines flight, accompanied by his wife. He had gone to India to drum up support for the restoration of democracy and human rights in Fiji. He was, and still is, a few Indo-Fijians who commands widespread support, if not sympathy, in the land of his forefathers. His cause was greatly helped by the BJP government and its political allay, the then Chief Minister of Haryana, Om Prakash Chautala. The Indian Minister for Agriculture Chaoba Singh, Chautala and chief protocol officer M. P. Singh received him. The deposed Prime Minister of Fiji waved at the waiting Indian media outside the VIP lounge of the Indira Gandhi International Airport but did not speak to them despite requests. The Haryana Chief Minister’s son Ajay Chautala and relatives of Chaudhry were also present at the airport to receive him. During his captivity, his relatives had actively sought Vajpayee’s help to free Chaudhry from Speight’s clutches.
In Rothak, welcome arches and flag-waving school children greeted Chaudhry. According to Indian newspapers, the Chautala government had forced government-sponsored schools to line up their students by the roadside in the scorching heat. He was feted at a public reception by the Chautala’s Haryana State government. He was given a hero’s welcome, with his struggle’s to uphold Indo-Fijian rights likened to the South African President Nelson Mandela’s crusade against White apartheid in old racist South Africa. In his speech, according to Indian newspaper reports, Chaudhry told a cross-section of politicians and a gathering of up to 8,000 people who had turned up to cheer him that he [his] struggle to restore democracy in Fiji would be fraught with danger because the guns were still in the hands of rebels who had overthrown his Peoples Coalition Government.
The politicians who had come to listen to him were the Congress Party, the BJP, the Haryana Vikas Party (HVP), the Bahujan Samaj party and the Communist Party of India-Marxist. The former Deputy Indian Prime Minister Devi Lal (no relative of mine, by the way) was also present for a while. In his speech, Chaudhry also told the gathering that it was the second time in 13 years that a democratically elected government in Fiji had been overthrown on racist grounds, and urged the international community not to be taken in by the promises made by the incumbent military-backed Laisenia Qarase interim Fijian government on the restoration of democracy in the country. ‘I have not received such a reception at home,’ Chaudhry told the crowd. ‘For a moment it appeared as if I was in my own political constituency.’
In his address to the gathering, Chautala, likened Chaudhry’s struggle to Mandela’s in South Africa, and also dramatically announced that his government would present a purse of Rs 16 million to Chaudhry before he returns home on 26 August 2000. Chautala said all the State’s subjects would be requested to contribute Rs 1 to the purse.
Question: Did Chaudhry hear of Chautala’s announcement at this reception? If so, what was his response to the planned fund-raising? What did he do to encourage or stop the collection in August 2000?
During his visit to Rohtak, the returning prodigal son was also conferred an honorary doctorate by the 8th Special Convocation of the Rohtak’s Maharisi Dayanand University. Again, according to Indian press reports, receiving the doctorate, Chaudhry had to remind the audience that though his grandfather and father hailed from Haryana, he was born and brought up in Fiji. Chaudhry received the doctorate with a sense of great joy and pride and also some regret. ‘This could have occurred in happier times for me and my countrymen, Fijians.’ The honorary doctorate was awarded to him in recognition of his pioneering and exemplary service in improving the lot of his countrymen and his fight for democracy and social justice. The degree was awarded by Governor Parmanand, also the Chancellor of the University.
To his credit, Chaudhry repeatedly stressed his Fijian moorings again and again. He did not utter a word against George Speight and his goons who had held him captive. Neither did he say anything against the rulers who had sent Speight to prison. According to Indian journalists covering Chaudhry’s visit, throughout the day, different Haryani speakers kept forgetting that Chaudhry’s middle name was Pal and not Pratap.
But ‘Pratap’, which means courage, had become so synonymous with him that nobody, even Chaudhry himself minded that. He did however manage to win the day despite having betrayed popular sentiment by not uttering a word in Hindi. As one journalist put it, ‘even at the reception where the pro-subsidy, pro-free electricity farmers had gathered, Chaudhry spoke in a foreign tongue’. It was, as the journalist put it, a rude culture shock for the suave Chaudhry, impeccable in a blue-grey suit. But Chautala would have none of it. Throughout the day he fought hard to steal the show. Buyoed by a wave of jingoism which largely uneducated Haryanis had fallen for, Chautala raged throughout the day.
Why was Om Prakash Chuatala so upbeat and excited about Chaudhry’s visit to his home state? Was he planning to add the thousands of rupees, to be collected for Chauhdry, to the millions for which he would be subsequently charged by the Indian authorities?
At the reception, however, Chautala told the masses: ‘Chaudhry is fighting an arduous battle for restoring democracy and we want him to know that we fully support him.’
Haryana Congress raises Fiji fund scandal
It was not long however before Chautala’s political opponents sensed blood. In January 2003, the Pradesh Congress demanded a Central Bureau of Investiagtion (CBI) probe into the source of the money allegedly earmarked for Chaudhry. The Haryana Congress president and former Chief Miniister, Bhajan lal, at a news conference on 18 January in Chandigarh, sought to know the details of the funds collected in Haryana and demanded a CBI probe into its sources. However, the so-called Indo-Fiji Friendship Society and the then ruling Indian National Lok Dal (INDL) had dismissed allegations of committing any irregularities. The Haryana INLD president and society member, Sher Singh Badshami, in a statement, refuted the allegations levelled by the Congress leaders, including the Legislature Party leader, Bhupinder Singh Hooda. Badshami termed them as ‘baseless’. He said Chautala had nothing to do with the IFFS. The society president was Inder Singh, MP, while the treasurer was Ram Lal of Rania., and the patron-in-chief was Chaudhry himself, Badshami said. He said the Rs 1 crore received from the public had been deposited in the society’s name in a bank in Chandigarh.
On 21 January 2003, Chautala offered to hold a probe into the alleged misuse of funds collected by the IFFFS. Addressing a press conference he said the society, headed by INDL MP from Rohtak, Inder Singh, had collected funds for the specific purpose as ousted Chaudhry hailed from Rohtak district. He maintained that the society had been maintaining proper records of the funds and the money was safely lying in a bank account. Chautala said the Opposition was raking up the issue to defame him.
The protestations failed to wish away the controversy. On 28 January 2003, the Indian Youth Congress demanded the dismissal of Chautala for failing to adhere to ‘constitutional norms’. An IYC delegation, led by its President, Randeep Singh Surjewala, presented a memorandum to Governor Parmanand, on this issue, and also urged the Governor to order a CBI probe to find out the truth about the quantum of money collected and the IFFS which was said to be in possession of the funds. The memorandum contained a blow-by-blow account of Chautala’s announcement to collect the fund for Chaudhry. The memorandum questioned why money in crores collected in the name of Chaudhry was not handed over to him even 31 months after August 26, 2000, when he was supposed to be presented with the collection. It claimed that workers of all political parties and others collected money to the tune of Rs 6 crore, and a majority of the donations were received in cash. The memorandum also pointed out the contradictions between Badshami, who claimed the money was collected only in the form of bank drafts and cheques, and Chautala’s announcement about collecting R1 from each Haryani. The Indian Youth Congress asked exactly how much money was collected.
The memorandum said it had now been stated by the IFFS that the money would be utilised for Non-Resident Indians of Haryana origin and not for Chaudhry questioning that was the justification of raising the money then. It also asked for the date on which the money was deposited in Oriental Bank of Commerce, sector 19, Chandigarh. It also asked as to who was in possession of the money between August 2000, and the day when it was deposited in the bank. Claiming that ‘fraud by Mr Chautala and his party is thus writ large’ in the Fiji episode, the memorandum said when a person holding the highest office in the State was engaged in defrauding the people of the State, it amounted to his ceasing to hold allegiance to the law of the land. The use of government officials in the fraud also amounted to violation of Article 164(3) read with Third Schedule of the Constitution of India, stated the memorandum.
The episode, one Indian journalist, recently noted, has frightened many prospective ordinary donors from responding to donations in times of disasters, and they have every reason to do so for running away from donation-seekers. In 2002, when Chaudhry participated in the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (the much celebrated Non-Resident Indian gathering) Chautala was nowhere to be seen. When an Indian newspaper asked him why he did not hand over the money to Chaudhry, Chautala said the transfer involved two sovereign countries (India and Fiji). If so, why did he raise the money in the first place? Badshami, while refuting Congress claim, said only Rs1.2 crore was collected and it was to date deposited in a branch of Union Bank of India in Panchukla. Though Badshami said that Chaudhry was a member of the Committee, he did not have either his number or address. Was [What] a ridiculous and breath-taking explanation?
Question: Was Chaudhry, as Badshami claims, a patron-in-chief of the IFFS?
In November 2004, when Chautala was charged by the Indian authorities with the disappearance of millions of dollars, including funds collected for the Fiji Labour Party, Chaudhry denied reports that Chautala had collected funds for the party which were later stolen. He labelled such reports as ‘mischief making’ and a ‘smear campaign’ against the FLP. On 14 January 2003, the Indian Express quoted Chaudhry as saying, ‘I am hopeful that Chautala will honour the promise he made to the Indians of Fiji’. It said that when Chauhdry made inquiries, he was told that 2.5 crore rupees (about FJ$1 million) had been collected and put in the bank. ‘I was not given anything and I decided not to press the matter further at that point,’ Chauhdry had allegedly told the Indian Express then.
What is the Truth?
A radio report in Fiji stated in November 2004 that the FLP sources had confirmed that Chautala collected funds for the party to fight its court cases relating to the Constitution. When contacted, Chaudhry said: ‘There was absolutely no funds collected for the FLP by anybody and we have not asked anyone to collect funds on our behalf. ‘It is mischief making and a smear campaign against the Labour Party to discredit us because the elections are around the corner,’ he said. ‘It is pure mischief making by the radio station and we have asked them to retract the report, failing which they will face the legal consequences,’ he said. Chaudhry said people making such allegations should either come up with evidence or shut up.
The most recent to raise the issue is the Prime Minister [Qarase], who asked in Parliament: ‘I challenge him to tell us the complete truth about the funds that were raised there for him in Haryana State. Where are those funds now and what are they used for? How much money is held in bank accounts and who are the signatories?" But Chaudhry said Qarase should come up with evidence. ‘He is just being silly. Let him come up with evidence before making wild accusations?' He refused to admit or deny any knowledge of the funds.
Badshami says they would have no objection if the present Laisenia Qarase government arranged the transfer of this money to Fiji, presumably for Chaudhry and the Fiji Labour Party.
Will Chaudhry accept the money?
Above all, to put the Nixonian question – when did Chaudhry know that funds were being collected for him, and how did he know?
What more evidence he needs before he admits or denies any knowledge of the funds that was collected in Haryana in August 2000?
Fijileaks Editor: No one knew, until Victor Lal revealed it, that Chaudhry also held $2million in his Sydney bank account, the subject of his recent conviction. What has happened to the Chautala collection? Is it still in India or has it been sent to Chaudhry?
Is the controversial "Harbhajan Lal" letter to FIRCA a Forgery?
The letter was withheld from Justice Gounder and a new one from Delhi Support Group tendered to explain away the $2million in Sydney bank account!
We do not know when Chaudhry wrote to "Harbhajan Lal". But Harbhajan Lal's reply does not make sense at all: "You have asked for details of the funds." That was on 9 September 2004.
And yet documentary evidence clearly reveal that Chauhdry was aware of the funds in his Sydney bank account.
For on 25 November 2002 he had gifted (above) $50,000 to his daughter from the $2million.
Meanwhile, on 28 April 2008 Victor Lal wrote to the mysterious Harbhajan Lal on the same address (below) with a list of questions but the letter was returned to him with a note scribbled on the back: ‘Incomplete Address’. The accountant Nalin Patel of G. Lal & Co had submitted the "Harbhajan Lal" letter on behalf of Chaudhry to explain away the source of the $2million in the Sydney bank account.