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April 24, 2018
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Govt pleaders clash in courtroomDispute over who should represent the State; Special public prosecutor loses his legal brief in bar case

Two government pleaders crossed swords in a courtroom here on Thursday over which one of them should represent the State in the high-profile bar bribery case. By evening, one of them lost his job.

The legal wrangling occurred between legal adviser C.C. Augustine and special public prosecutor (SPP) K.P. Satheeshan in the court of Inquiry Commissioner and Special Judge, Vigilance, D. Ajith Kumar. The government later stripped Mr. Satheeshan of his legal brief.

The court convened to decide the future course of the case in which former Finance Minister K. M. Mani was the sole accused. The sitting evoked public curiosity because Mr. Mani’s political prospects hinged to an extent on the outcome of the protracted litigation.

Moreover, the court was hearing from the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau (VACB) for the third successive time in the past four years, under two different governments and three separate directors, that it had no evidence to prosecute Mr. Mani.

A legal drama ensued when Mr. Augustine opposed Mr. Satheeshan representing the VACB in the case. He said the special public prosecutor could appear in the case only in the trial stage. The government had made it clear in an affidavit to the High Court recently. Mr. Satheeshan told the court that he was well within his rights to represent the State. The judge asked Mr Augustine to get a clarification from the government and advanced the hearing of the case to June 6. He also directed the complainants to file their objections, if any.

A senior VACB official said the government had withdrawn Mr. Satheeshan’s brief for adversely commenting on the probe despite a HC gag order.

The developments on Thursday appeared to have dashed Mr. Mani’s hope for an immediate reprieve in the case. They have also set the stage for a fresh round of legal wrangling.

The bar case has remained a thorn in Mr. Mani’s efforts to set a new course for the Kerala Congress (M) ever since he edged away from the United Democratic Front. The controversy had also cost him his Cabinet berth in the Oommen Chandy government and provided a robust campaign platform for the Left Democratic Front in the run-up to the previous Assembly polls in 2016.