Coronavirus among grounds for leniency’, says court while awarding 3-year jail to GST officials for corruption

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Two officials who worked in the Goods and Services Tax office in Pune in 2019 received a lenient sentence in a corruption case on Saturday due to the coronavirus outbreak, among other factors, said a special CBI court that convicted them. The two convicts were awarded three years’ imprisonment. In March last year, the Central Bureau of Investigation’s Anti-Corruption Branch had arrested two superintendents posted at the Goods and Services Tax office — Sanjeeb Kumar Sharma (37) and Vivek Dekate (48) — for demanding and accepting a bribe of Rs 1 lakh to settle the service tax liability of a restaurant on the Pune-Mumbai Highway.

The complainant in the case works as a tax consultant and his wife is a partner in the restaurant. According to the police, a staffer from the chartered accountant firm that had been looking after the tax returns of the restaurant, was contacted by one of the convicts, Sharma, for the service tax liability of the establishment. The convicts had demanded a bribe of Rs 5 lakh to settle the restaurant’s service tax liability for financial year 2016-17. The bribe amount was subsequently negotiated down to Rs 3 lakh. The tax consultant had then filed a complaint with the CBI.CBI sleuths had laid a trap and caught the two convicts red-handed while accepting from the complainant a bribe of Rs 1 lakh as the first installment of the total bribe amount of Rs 3 lakh. The two were booked under Section 7 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, which attracts a maximum punishment of seven years and minimum three years. The trial was conducted in the court of Special CBI Judge Pralhad Bhagure. Public prosector Abhayraj Arikar examined nine witnesses in the case.

In his order on Saturday, Special Judge Bhagure said, “I have not seen any infirmity by which I can turn down the case of prosecution. Thus, from the aforesaid evidence and discussion I hold that prosecution has established the case against both accused persons.” 

While discussing the arguments by the defence and prosecution lawyers on the quantum of sentence, the court observed, “Learned advocate for one of the accused urged that the entire nation is facing problem of COVID-19. He further submitted that even the government has taken move to release undertrial prisoners and avoid crowd from prison. He requested to take lenient view while awarding sentence…It appears from the record this is first offence of accused persons. The family members of accused persons are dependent on them. Now a days entire nation is facing problem of COVID-19. As the accused persons having small children and nobody is there to look after them, in my view, though offence is serious, it is desirable to take lenient view while awarding sentence.”

Both were sentenced to three years of rigorous imprisonment, a fine of Rs 50,000 each and a further imprisonment of six months if unable to pay the fine.

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