Justice K. Natarajan, who presided over the disproportionate assets case against Karnataka Deputy CM DK Shivakumar, explained that the petitioner had significantly delayed approaching the high court to challenge the CBI’s actions. The petition was filed in July 2022, which the court deemed a substantial delay, given that the CBI had initiated the FIR in October 2020. Shivakumar’s claim that the CBI registered the FIR with “malafide” intention and political bias was also dismissed by the court.
Justice Natarajan underscored that the CBI’s investigation relied on extensive documents and evidence gathered by the Income Tax Department and the Enforcement Directorate (ED), apart from their independent findings. The court further pointed out that approximately 90 per cent of the probe had been completed, with CBI presenting the status of the investigation in a sealed cover.
Avoiding Mini-Trials and Chartered Accountant Roles
The court firmly stated that it could not engage in what amounted to conducting a “mini-trial” for the purpose of quashing the FIR. Furthermore, it declined the role of acting like a chartered accountant to assess or audit the amounts and details claimed by the CBI. Shivakumar had raised questions about the correctness of the calculation of asset values by the CBI.
In its judgement, the Karnataka High Court directed the CBI to conclude its investigation within three months and submit a final report to the jurisdictional court. The court emphasised that the investigation had nearly reached completion and noted that Shivakumar had already presented a substantial volume of documents during the investigation. This, according to the court, demonstrated that it was inappropriate to assess these documents during the investigation, as it would resemble a “mini-trial.”
Challenging the Sanction Order
The CBI had previously approached the Supreme Court, challenging a stay order issued by a High Court division bench concerning the sanction given by the state government for the investigation. On October 17, the Supreme Court decided not to vacate the stay and issued a notice to DK Shivakumar. The CBI also filed an application before a division bench to lift the stay order, as it currently hampers the agency’s ability to proceed with its investigation.
The CBI’s case against DK Shivakumar, a Congress party MLA and one of Karnataka’s wealthiest politicians, centers on allegations of possessing assets worth Rs. 74.93 crore disproportionate to his known sources of income during the period of 2013-2018. The case has its origins in an income tax raid on Shivakumar, and he was subsequently charged under various sections, including those of the Income Tax Act and the IPC. The State Government entrusted the investigation to the CBI in September 2019, which led to the registration of an FIR in October 2020.
Impact of the Pandemic on the Probe
The CBI informed the court that the ongoing pandemic had impeded the continuity of the investigation. Throughout the course of the inquiry, Shivakumar submitted an extensive explanation comprising 11 volumes with around 2,412 pages. Additionally, it was revealed that approximately 596 documents had been collected, and 84 witnesses were examined. Due to the unavailability of certain documents, the investigation officer had been unable to complete the probe and file the charge sheet promptly.
The legal battle surrounding this high-profile case is far from over, as Shivakumar still has the option to challenge the final report once it is issued by the CBI.
The Karnataka High Court’s decision to reject DK Shivakumar’s plea marks a significant development in this case. The court’s ruling emphasised the importance of adhering to legal timelines and procedures and refraining from engaging in “mini-trials” during investigations. The CBI has been directed to complete its inquiry within three months, and the case continues to attract public and media attention due to its implications for one of the state’s leading political figures.