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Criminal Cases initiated against Azim Premji and two others

By Vaibhav Gattani      31 January, 2022 03:58 PM      0 Comments
Criminal Cases Azim Premji wipro

A Bengaluru court on 25th January 2022, directed two separate criminal cases to be registered against founder Chairman of Wipro Limited (An IT giant) Azim Premji and others for alleged criminal breach of trust and corruption.

In the case, India Awake for Transparency v. Azim Hasham Premji & Ors. the Special Judge under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 (PCA) Lakshminarayana Bhat K stated that a prima facie case was made out against Premji, his wife and one PV Srinivasan. The order stated,

"It is made out from the materials placed on record that the accused No.1 (Azim Premji) to 3 (Pagalthivarthi Srinivasan) were performing the public duty and therefore they are public servants. There are sufficient materials to proceed against the accused in both the complaints for the offence punishable under section 13(1)(d) of the PC Act (The Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988) and Sections 409 and 120B read with section 34 of the Indian Penal Code (1860)."

The complaint was filed by a non-profit India Awake for Transparency, represented by its volunteer P Sadanand Goud. It was alleged that Premji and others committed offences under Sections 13(1)(d) (public servant obtaining pecuniary advantage) with 13(2) (punishment for criminal misconduct by a public servant) of The Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 and Sections 409 (criminal breach of trust by public servant) and 120B (Punishment of criminal conspiracy) read with Section 34 (acts done by several persons with common intention) of the Indian Penal Code.

The complainant alleged that the accused took advantage of their position as directors of three companies - Vidya Investment and Trading Company Pvt. Ltd, Regal Investment and Trading Company Private Limited, and Napean Trading and Investment Company Private Limited - to remove 21.3 crore equity shares of Wipro (worth ₹9260.18 crores as on the date of removal) held by the three companies and transferred them to the Azim Premji Trust.

The Court noted that as per Section 2(b) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, public duty means any duty in the discharge of which the State, the public or the community at large has an interest. Since the accused were discharging public duties as directors of the three companies, they were performing a public duty, and were, therefore, public servants, the Court held.

While noting that it was not required to ascertain the veracity of the allegations made in the complaint at this stage, the Court recorded in its order,

"The accused No 1 (Azim Hasham Premji) to 3 (Pagalthivarthi Srinivasan) as directors of the three companies were entrusted with the property/assets of those companies. They were having dominion over the property have dishonestly misappropriated and converted to their use by transferring the assets to the 4th accused trust (Azim Premji Trust) in pursuance of criminal conspiracy. The complaint allegations disclose the elements of criminal misconduct."

Finding that there were elements of criminal misconduct in the allegations, the Court ordered for two cases to be initiated against the accused. Thus, summons were issued to the accused, returnable by February 28.

Advocate R Subramanian appeared for the complainant.

Earlier this month, the Karnataka High Court had sentenced two representatives of India Awake for Transparency to two months of simple imprisonment and a fine of ₹2,000 for filing multiple, frivolous cases against Wipro and Azim Premji.

In February 2021, a single-judge Bench of the Karnataka High Court dismissed another petition by the same NGO with costs of ₹10 lakh for filing multiple petitions seeking to register a case against Premji and others.

The Bench of Justice PS Dinesh Kumar noted that multiple petitions were moved before the High Court seeking criminal action against the Wipro Chairman and that even after those petitions were dismissed, the NGO filed a fresh writ petition with a similar set of allegations.

While rejecting the writ petition, the Court noted:

"...there remains no doubt that petitioner is indulging in forum shopping on the very same cause of action. As held in Udyami this amounts to criminal contempt as the core issue in all these writ petitions is one and the same… In the result, this writ petition is not only devoid of merits, but an absolute abuse of process of law. Though petitioner was forewarned, he chose to argue this writ petition as a stand-alone petition wasting the valuable time of this Court to deal with such frivolous cases. Therefore, imposition of punitive cost is necessary."

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