The Bombay High Court on Wednesday confirmed and made absolute the interim protection from arrest to BJP leader Kirit Somaiya and his son Neil in connection with a cheating case alleging swindling of funds collected for the restoration of INS Vikrant, the Indian Navy’s first aircraft carrier.
The court passed an order after noting that though there were allegations of misappropriation of an amount of Rs 57 crore against Somaiyas, as per prosecution, there was not enough evidence or proof of the same.
Senior advocate Shirish Gupte, a special counsel for Mumbai Police, submitted a report which stated that there was not enough evidence of misappropriation against the Somaiya father-son duo. Thereafter, the court asked Gupte as to whether the police would want Somaiyas’ custody, to which he responded that the custody was not required for now. “We however would require him to continue to appear for interrogation,” Gupte responded.
To which, the state’s counsel responded that while custody is not required as of now, it has issued notice under Section 41A (notice of appearance before police officer) of Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) to Kirit Somaiya and he has been asked to report before Economic Offences Wing (EOW) of Mumbai Police on August 17, while Neil has been asked to appear on August 18.
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Gupte added that in the event the police want to take the applicant in custody, he will be notified 72 hours prior to the arrest.
Justice Bharati H Dangre noted in the order, “The allegation against Kirit Somaiya was of misappropriation of funds. Though the complaint alleged a whopping sum of Rs 57 crores was collected and this figure was collected through various social media platforms, there was no evidence of misappropriation. A specific statement of counsel and the investigation agency do not lead to such an inference (of misappropriation). It is stated that notice under Section 41A has been issued to the applicant. He shall abide by the notice and report on August 17 to the police station. Specific order granting interim protection is made absolute.”
The high court had granted interim protection from arrest to the two on April 13 and the same was extended from time to time thereafter and had asked the duo to attend the investigating agency.
While granting interim protection to Somaiya, the court had observed that the First Information Report (FIR) indicated that the allegations were mainly based on media reports. “Though there were specific allegations of misappropriation of Rs 57 crore, there was no material on record to indicate on what basis the complainant had arrived at the said figure,” the court had observed.
“It is also to be noted that the complaint had been lodged in 2022 for money allegedly collected in 2013,” the bench had said. It had prima facie observed that the complaint was “vague”.
The complaint of cheating was filed at the Trombay police station by a former Indian Army man, claiming that a donation drive was started by Kirit Somaiya in 2013 to prevent INS Vikrant from being decommissioned and scrapped. He said in his complaint that Kirit Somaiya, his son Neil, and others had collected funds by setting up donation boxes at various locations in the city.
The complainant had said that due to the significance of INS Vikrant, including its contribution to the 1971 war, he had contributed Rs 2,000. He learned in 2014 that the warship was scrapped and auctioned to a company for Rs 60 crore.
He added that Somaiya had tweeted that he had written a letter to the governor in 2013 on the contribution Mumbaikars were ready to make. The complainant alleged that the governor’s office, in a reply, said no money was received from Somaiya from 2013-14.