NEW DELHI – A former top leader of India’s main opposition Hindu nationalist party was jailed for four years on Saturday for accepting a bribe in a fake arms deal that was a media sting operation.
Bangaru Laxman, former president of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was secretly videotaped accepting the bribe from journalists pretending to be arms dealers 11 years ago.
The sting footage was aired on television channels nationwide, creating a political storm for the then BJP government, headed by prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
In a New Delhi court, Judge Kanwaljeet Arora sentenced the 72-year-old to four years in prison and imposed a 100,000 rupee ($2,000) fine under India’s anti-corruption act.
“Balancing the twin interest of society and that of the convict, I am of the opinion the interests of justice would be met if the convict is sentenced to undergo rigorous imprisonment for a term of four years,” the judge said.
India’s courts have taken an increasingly activist role in cracking down on corruption which has become a major political issue in the country.
The Congress government is reeling from a slew of graft allegations, including a multi-billion-dollar telecom scandal, that have sapped its popularity.
The judge, rejecting Laxman’s plea for leniency on health grounds, said it was necessary to send a signal that “rampant corruption” will not be tolerated, according to the Press Trust of India.
Investigative journalism outlet Tehelka taped footage of Laxman accepting a wad of currency notes in connection with the fictitious arms deal.
Laxman had told the court he had been framed and was a victim of entrapment.
After sentencing, Laxman was taken to India’s biggest correctional facility, Tihar Jail, where ex-telecom minister A. Raja is incarcerated on corruption charges over the telecom scandal embroiling the current government.
“The problem of large-scale and rampant corruption, more particularly, the political corruption, is weakening the political body,” the judge said.
In the video, reporters pretending to be arms dealers offered Laxman 100,000 rupees as a bribe to recommend that the defense ministry buy thermal imaging binoculars from a fake British-based company.
Laxman said he took the money as a party donation and gave it to the BJP’s treasurer. After the video was aired on TV, Laxman and then defense minister George Fernandes quit.
Tehelka’s videotaped sting was the first of its kind in India. It opened a new chapter in political reporting and was followed by similar stings.