Friday, March 11, 2011

Did we all jump the gun in the Hasan Ali matter?

Very damning, the special court’s observations against the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in the Hasan Ali case. It appears that everybody – including the ED, the Income Tax department, the Supreme Court itself, the opposition parties and the media of course – may have jumped the gun. It’s entirely possible that Hasan Ali is just another small time goon. Not the big daddy of money laundering that he has been made out to be. Not the hawala mastermind who siphoned off billions of illegal money out of the country. The question now is: If the High Court also is un-convinced about the case, will we blame the judiciary (and suggest everything is wrong in the country) or accept that we may all have collectively barked up the wrong tree?

This is the problem that arises when we allow media trials to be conducted. Media has already branded Hasan Ali as scamster. Times Now’s and CNN IBN’s headlines run as if he has already been convicted and pronounced guilty. In reality, not a single case has ever been proven against him. It now appears that there aren’t even any authentic documents available against him. The $700,000 (a small sum given the claimed magnitude of his crime) transfer was made from a US account belonging to one H A Kahn.....easily possible that this person was a German! This is the information that the US Justice System provided in response to the Letters Rogatory sent out by the Indian court. Didn’t we jump the gun and simply assumed that Kahn was a mis-spelling of Khan? In India, we care so little for spellings (Ask me: My surname Panday almost always gets spelled as Pandey or Pande or Pandya!), that we simply cannot think that this simple error could have happened. Take the other observation that the two Swiss bank accounts may not even exist. Apparently there are documents that prove that the claimed balance of $ 8 billion in these accounts does not even exist in the accounts. The judge pointed out that Hasan Ali may have cooked up dummy bank statements to show his worth to a businessman (Tapuria) who he was trying to arrange a loan for. This is fairly common actually.....much more common than we think possible. But when we approach a trial with our minds already pre-decided, we can make huge mistakes. In the Times Now interview of Tapuria....the questioning was clearly from a position of his assumed guilt (One of the question was: Weren’t you gullible Mr Tapuria? Now Gullible is the kind of word you would use if you had already made up your mind about the person).

The huge sum of $8-10 billion is what made me suspect the possibility of a mistake. It’s very very difficult (if not impossible) for someone to acquire so much wealth while staying under the radar. I doubt if even Adnan Khashoggi, the Saudi arms dealer who Hasan Ali is supposed to be working with, would have so much personal wealth. For a small time Hyderabad resident to acquire so much wealth was pretty impossible.....and for it to be made a good masala story on TV required that a political “spin” be given to the case. Hence it was hinted that Hasan Ali was laundering the money of some politicians. Never has any politician been identified. Saying politicians were involved would find ready acceptance amongst the people. All of us would immediately think of Congress leaders because the Congress has ruled for 60 years. But for the media to give prime space for mere accusations without adequate warnings to the readers about these being mere accusations (and not proved) is a real tragedy. Media did this with Kalmadi and they are now struggling to find anything big to stick to him (he’s being accused of making a cut in small deals of the size of Rs 16 crores now!). In the case of Raja, the amounts may be larger than in Kalmadi’s case.....but they are not even 5% of the sums initially tomtommed. At most, we are talking of Rs 4,000 crs and even that is not proved! Are we saying that Raja and Kalmadi are smarter than all the investigating agencies put together????? Or are we just saying that “we want to believe all this is true. And we don’t care what the truth is)”

I am not saying Hasan Ali is not guilty. But why can’t we just wait for the courts to hear out the matter before we make up our mind? There are several reasons for this. One prime reason is that we have lost faith in the “system”. Even in the Hasan Ali case, the first hearings have happened after several years and that too after the SC put pressure. People naturally assume that the system has connived with him in scuttling the case. Second is the strong belief all of us have that there is rampant corruption in all departments of the government as well as in the judiciary. Everything can be “managed” if you pay enough. It’s our prejudices which make us jump to conclusions ahead of time.

The real truth is that all of us are guilty of making up our minds before hearing the facts. We have become victims of our prejudices. Of course, opposition leaders and media love this as it gives them a stick to wield against the ruling party. We need to keep this truth in mind.....else these motivated sections will continue treating us like dumb puppets.

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