DDCA defamation suit: Ram Jethmalani fires 52 questions to Arun Jaitley

NEW DELHI: Expelled BJP leader and jurist Ram Jethmalani on Monday cross-examined Finance Minister Arun Jaitley who has filed a Rs 10 crore civil defamation suit in the Delhi High Court against Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and five AAP leaders for accusing him of financial bungling in DDCA.

Jethmalani, appearing on behalf of Kejriwal, fired 52 questions to Jaitley in his bid to prove that the lawsuit on defamation by the senior BJP leader was unfounded and should be dismissed. However, 11 questions of the noted senior lawyer were disallowed by Joint Registrar Amit Kumar on the ground that some were matter of record and irrelevant to the case and others were questions of law and not fact and some could be argued during the hearing before the regular court.

The Finance Minister has already tendered evidence in support of his civil defamation suit against Kejriwal and five AAP leaders — Raghav Chadha, Kumar Vishwas, Ashutosh, Sanjay Singh and Deepak Bajpai. However, Jaitley, facing a barrage of questions from his former BJP colleague who was expelled from the party in 2013 for six years, refuted Kejriwal’s claim that the December 2015 CBI raid at the Delhi Chief Minister’s office was “purely” aimed at removing files related to alleged irregularities in the Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA) in which the Finance Minister was allegedly named.

“I recollect reading from media that defendant no.1 (CM) and may be some others had alleged that the CBI had conducted the raid to take away some files where they alleged that I was named. I am personally unaware of any such details,” Jaitley told the Joint Registrar. He also said that he had no prior knowledge of the raid, nor had he even been privy to the facts of the raid. Jaitley also denied accusations that he tried to influence Chetan Sanghi, Delhi government’s vigilance chief who handled DDCA case, and persuaded him to go back on his report.

The union minister, who had headed DDCA for 13 years, claimed he cannot recollect he had ever met the officer and, only through the media, he had got to know that the said commission of inquiry into DDCA was headed by a bureaucrat. “I read in the media that bureaucrat Mr Sanghi had written to the Home Secretary, Government of India seeking posting in the Centre since the Delhi government felt offended by him for his having refused to name certain VIP in the DDCA inquiry,” he added.

The union minister also answered in the negative a query as to whether he and his government had befriended Sanghi and asked him to go back on his report. Jethmalani, assisted by advocate Anupam Srivastava, also alleged that search at Kejriwal’s Secretariat office was made because documents relating to DDCA was expected to be found.

Jaitley, who has denied all allegations of financial bungling in the DDCA, has filed the suit seeking Rs 10 crore damages against the backdrop of attacks on him by Kejriwal and other AAP leaders over alleged irregularities and financial bungling in the cricket body of which he was the president for about 13 years till 2013. The senior BJP leader appeared before the court for the second time since he had filed the suit in December 2015.

The union minister came to the court of a Joint Registrar at 11:45 am along with a battery of senior lawyers and deposed that Kejriwal and others defamed him by levelling allegations in connection with DDCA, despite he contradicting the accusations in the media and also in Parliament. Jaitley, who was accompanied by senior advocates Rajiv Nayar, Sandeep Sethi and Pratibha M Singh, was questioned for over two hours in a jam-packed courtroom.

Jethmalani also had a battery of lawyers around him, mostly the prosecutors of AAP government and Kejriwal’s lawyer who is handling the case. When asked by Jethmalani to explain how the damage to his reputation was “irreparable and unquantifiable” and whether it had anything to do with his “personal feelings of greatness,” the BJP leader said “I believe that considering my stature, background and reputation, the loss caused to me and my reputation was so enormous that it could be considered unquantifiable.

“My view about my own reputation was based on what my friends, well-wishers and other people both privately and in media, who had expressed an opinion on this subject.” During the cross examination which will continue tomorrow also, Jethmalani put to the senior minister whether he had made any serious effort to reverse the alleged damage before coming to the court. Jaitley replied “my denial on public platform was a serious effort”.

Kejriwal’s counsel said the minister has not suffered any monetary damage, “which is why he called it by the expression ‘unquantifiable damage’.” “The loss of my reputation has been partly quantified in terms of money in my claim. A person’s reputation operates in the public space and so does the loss of reputation. In addition, it causes pain and mental distress to the person defamed, which it did in my case,” Jaitley recorded. The Supreme Court on November 22 last year had dismissed Kejriwal’s plea of seeking a stay on trial court proceedings in the case.

On March 1, the Delhi High Court had dismissed another application of Kejriwal seeking bank account details of Jaitley and his family. The Minister on December 6 last year appeared to record his evidence after the high court on July 12, 2016 had framed issues against Kejriwal and others, notwithstanding their claim that they had not made any defamatory statement against him in the DDCA case.

The issues were framed against them after Kejriwal’s counsel had denied the allegations and submitted that whatever was said against the Minister was in public domain and he has not said anything on his own. The court had framed issues against all the six AAP leaders and fixed the matter before Joint Registrar to decide whether any defamatory statements were made by them.

In a civil suit, when one party affirms and other party denies a material proposition of fact or law, then only the issues arise. The Union minister has filed a criminal defamation complaint in a Delhi court on the same issue. The DDCA has also filed a criminal defamation suit against Kejriwal and suspended BJP MP Kirti Azad.