Mankotia tells court not sure about recorded voices

In a major shift from his earlier stand, the prime witness in a corruption case against former Union minister Virbhadra Singh on Friday created a doubt in a trial court here by hinting that he was unsure about the recorded voices in an audio cassette - which formed the basis of the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau's FIR in 2009.

Former minister Major (retd) Vijai Singh Mankotia, once Virbhadra's political adversary, told the the court of Special Judge BL Soni that the recorded voices in an audio cassette "seem to be of Virbhadra Singh, his wife Pratibha Singh and former Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer Mohinder Lal".

The statement assumes significance as Mankotia has been insisting that the conversations about monetary transactions were that of the couple and the officer. Even in his statement before police, Mankotia had said the voices were of the trio.

In another major development Mankotia, who recently returned to the Congress, refused to disclose the source of the cassette. Stating that he still has the original cassette, he said he had given the Vigilance Bureau a copy of the cassette, which he had released at Dharamsala in 2007.

While recording his statement Mankotia told the court that somebody left the cassette in the letterbox at his residence. Before dropping the cassette, an anonymous caller had told him over the phone he had incriminating material to expose corruption at high places.

"The conversation related to certain financial transactions so I decided to release the cassette to the media. I did not make any CD out of it, which was later played in the elections at Hamirpur," he said. Mankotia had released the cassette after he was expelled from the Congress party.

Incidentally, Mankotia's evidence has remained crucial for the prosecution as even the trial court, while framing the graft charges against the couple on June 25 had observed that the "materials on record show existence of criminal conspiracy by Virbhadra Singh and Pratibha Singh".

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