PATNA - A former Indian federal minister and regional ally of the government was sentenced Thursday to five years in jail over a corruption scam, disqualifying him from parliament under new anti-graft rules, lawyers said.
The special court in the city of Ranchi in eastern India convicted Lalu Prasad Yadav on Monday of criminal conspiracy, corruption and cheating relating to a so-called ‘fodder scam’ dating back to the 1990s.
Yadav, a former chief minister of the state Bihar and a national railways minister, along with 44 others were found to have defrauded a scheme intended to help farmers with their livestock to the tune of 380 million rupees ($6 million).
“The CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) pleaded for a harsh punishment because it will work as a deterrent against corruption,” AK Singh, a lawyer for the federal police told AFP by phone after the sentencing.
“Such powerful people hardly get caught on corruption charges. If he did not get a harsh punishment it would send a wrong message to the people,” he added.
The 66-year-old, a populist low-caste leader born into a cow herder’s family, has always denied wrong-doing and his lawyer said he would appeal against his conviction in the High Court.
His Rashtriya Janata Dal party based in the state of Bihar, one of India’s poorest, is an ally of the government which supports the ruling coalition from the outside.
He will be disqualified from parliament in accordance with a Supreme Court order in July that state and national lawmakers should be ejected from office if sentenced to more than three years in jail.
The government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh attempted to pass an executive order reversing the rule, but withdrew it in the face of internal dissent and widespread criticism.
Rahul Gandhi, the number two in the ruling Congress party, described the executive order as “nonsense” in harsh comments that created a public rift with the prime minister.