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New Delhi: A case involving serious allegations of parliamentary impropriety and corruption was on Friday reduced to a custodial battle over a pet Rottweiler named Henry after lawyer Jai Anant Dehadrai told the Delhi high court that Lok Sabha member Mahua Moitra’s lawyer tried to convince him to withdraw his complaint against the politician in exchange for the dog.
During a brief hearing on Friday, Dehadrai — whose letter formed the basis of Bharatiya Janata Party member Nishikant Dubey’s complaint to Lok Sabha speaker Om Birla — told the court that Moitra’s counsel Gopal Sankaranarayanan called him on Thursday to try and convince him to take back his complaint to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
Dehadrai had alleged that Moitra accepted money and favours to ask questions in Parliament, a charge the Trinamool Congress politician has denied.
His statement prompted the court to say it was appalled and questioned senior advocate Sankaranarayanan’s eligibility to appear for the member in her defamation suit filed against Dubey and Dehadrai.
“I’m really appalled. You are one person who I expect to maintain the highest professional standard. The fact that you have been in touch with defendant No 2 (Jai) on aspects touching this matter? So you tried to play the role of a mediator? Are you even eligible to appear? This is the question that you need to answer to yourself,” justice Sachin Datta said.
Sankaranarayanan subsequently withdrew from the case.
He later said “because Jai (Dehadrai) instructed me in a case, I had reached out to him yesterday and had asked him is there any way of exploring a settlement. Jai had said that he will get back to me, but he didn’t. Today when I appeared, Jai personally said to me he had an objection to me appearing. I immediately withdrew and said that I don’t want to do this case.”
The suit will next be heard on October 31.
The developments came a day after Darshan Hiranandani — the businessman named in Dubey’s complaint — alleged in an affidavit that he gave Moitra information on the basis of which she could pose questions attacking the Adani Group; that she received information from others too on this; that he gifted her “expensive luxury items” and underwrote the “renovation of her official” bungalow; and that she provided him with her Parliament login and password so that he could “post the questions directly on her behalf”.
All of these were charges mentioned, in part or full, in Dubey’s letter, which described the allegations as “cash for query”. Moitra denied the charges, saying efforts were being made to made to malign her and scare those close to her by the establishment.
But on Friday, the focus of the proceedings, in court and outside, was Henry.
As the hearing began, Dehadrai raised objections about Sankarnarayanan representing the MP. “There’s something very disturbing which my lordships must hear. There is a very serious conflict of interest. The CBI complaint I filed against the plaintiff. And it’s the same senior counsel who called me up yesterday and I had a conversation with him. He can’t appear and he’s heard all the details from me. I have a recording,” Dehadrai said.
Sankaranayanan clarified that he attempted to reach a settlement on the matter after taking instructions from the TMC MP as they had worked together in the past. “I spoke to my client (Mahua) & I said if it is okay if I speak to him to see if there is a quietus that is possible. She (Mahua) said I don’t have an objection. When I called him, we spoke for 28 minutes and he said that he would get back to me,” the senior advocate said.
This prompted the court to react sharply.
The custody of Henry has emerged as key battleground in the sensational case.
OnThursday, Dehadrai also wrote to Delhi Police commissioner Sanjay Arora, accusing Moitra of kidnapping the three-year-old dog to “harass, and blackmail” him. He said he purchased Henry in January 2021 for ₹75,000 and called their relationship “that of a parent and a child”. “Moitra has deliberately kidnapped and hidden Henry away from me since 10.10.2023, with the intent to harass and blackmail me in response to the CBI complaint dated 14.10.2023, which I have filed against her.”
In her legal notice, Moitra had accused Dehadrai — a former close friend — of trespassing into her official residence and stealing Henry, which she says he “later returned”.
“In view of the erstwhile friendship shared with Noticee No. 2 [Dehadrai], our Client [Moitra] did not immediately take any action but impressed upon him to let better sense prevail. However, when Noticee No. 2 repeated his transgressions of trespass and theft, our Client was constrained to inform Barakhamba Road Police Station and filed 2 (two) separate complaints in the matter dated 25 March 2023 and 23 September 2023 notifying them of all facts in relation to the matter,” the notice said.
The high court was considering a suit filed by the MP who sought to permanently restraining Dubey and Dehadrai, along with several media organisations (including Hindustan Times), from making, publishing and circulating defamatory, false and malicious statements designed to damage her reputation. She contended that Dubey did not conduct any due diligence to establish the veracity of the allegations made by Dehadrai.
The ethics committee of Parliament is already looking into Dubey’s complaint, and Hiranandani’s letter puts Moitra in a spot. If found guilty, she could be expelled from Parliament. Dubey and Dehadrai are scheduled to testify before the parliamentary ethics committee on October 26.
The last “cash for query” scandal erupted in 2005. A sting operation by online site Cobrapost on December 12, 2005, showed 11 MPs accepting cash in exchange for raising questions in the Parliament. On December 24, 2005, Parliament voted to expel the 11 MPs. Pranab Mukherjee, the leader of the Lok Sabha at the time, introduced a resolution asking for expulsion of the MPs while then PM Manmohan Singh did the same in the Rajya Sabha.
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