Harish Salve, known as the most expensive lawyer in the country with a super-rich clientele including Bollywood star Salman Khan and corporate Czars Mukesh Ambani and Ratan Tata, will appear for Kerala's Communist Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan in the multi-crore SN Lavalin case.  

 

When the Kerala High Court considered the revision petition of the CBI in the SNC Lavalin case on Wednesday, Vijayan's lawyer MK Damodaran informed the court that Salve would represent the CPM Politburo member in the next hearing. The CBI filed the revision petition challenging an earlier CBI Special Court order discharging Vijayan and six accused in the graft case. 

But why should Pinarayi Vijayan and CPM rope in the highly paid counsel, who was selected as the 18th most powerful person in India by India Today in 2009?

By roping in Harish Salve, the senior advocate who is known as the most expensive lawyer in the country, CPM makes it clear that it is not ready to take any chance in the corruption case haunting the Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan since 2003. Salve has always been the choice for corporate giants, politicians and celebrities. The former Solicitor General is credited with saving Bollywood star Salman Khan from imprisonment in the 2002 hit-and-run case in which one person was trampled to death and four injured. The lawyer, who reportedly charges Rs.30 lakh per sitting, also won the case for Vodafone in the Rs.1,1000 crore tax evasion case. Some of the famous cases Salve appeared includes the privacy petition by Ratan Tata in Niira Radia scandal, Mukesh Ambani in Krishna-Godavari Basin gas case. 

 

But why should Pinarayi Vijayan and CPM entrust the highly paid counsel, who was selected as the 18th most powerful person in India by India Today in 2009? Because the stakes are so high for the CPM leader, who assumed office as Kerala Chief Minister in May 2016. 


If the court accepts the CBI plea and nullifies the special CBI court's judgement, it would trigger a political storm in the state as the opposition would instantly demand his resignation as the Chief Minister. Even a unfavourable comment by the court could be prove costly for Vijayan. The CPM will also find it difficult to handle Vijayan's rivals in the party, including the formidable VS Achuthanandan. So the CPM, it seems, is not ready to take risk at this stage. 

 

The case pertains to corruption involving Vijayan, who was the Electricity Minister from May 1996 to October 1998.

 

The case pertains to corruption involving Vijayan, who was the Electricity Minister from May 1996 to October 1998. It was alleged that the awarding of the contract for the renovation and modernisation of the Pallivasal, Sengulam and Panniyar hydroelectric projects to SNC-Lavalin, a Canadian company at a very high cost, incurred a huge loss to the state exchequer. The CAG had found that the state lost Rs.374.5 crores in the contract.


 
In 2013, a CBI special court had discharged Vijayan and six others by observing that the agency failed to prove that the accused received kickbacks from the Canadian company.

 

SNC-Lavalin Scam

  • 1995 August 10: Kerala Electricity Minister G Karthikeyan signed the first MoU with SNC-Lavalin.
  • 1996 February 24: Electricity Board signed an agreement with SNC Lavalin for technical supports, consultancy and supervision. 
  • The agreement set a deadline of 3 years and fixed the consultancy fees at Rs.20.31 crores
  • 1996 October: Pinarayi Vijayan visited Canada and signed another agreement with SNC Lavalin, changing the consultancy agreement to supply agreement of equipment.
  • Besides consultancy fees, Kerala agreed to buy equipment at Rs.149.15 crores
  • 1997:  final agreement. 
  • Meanwhile, the public sector BHEL had offered the government to undertake the renovation work at a much lower cost. But this offer was trashed by the government. 
  • 1998 January: Electricity Board okays final agreement with a foreign aid of Rs.130 crores.
  • 1998 March: State cabinet gives approval to the project in 
  • Even though SNC-Lavalin had offered to pay Rs 98.30 crore to Malabar Cancer Centre in Kannur, it got only Rs.8.98 crores. 
  •  2001 December: The first phase of the renovation project was completed. 
  • UDF comes up with the allegation that the project was smacked with corruption. 
  • 2003 March: Chief Minister AK Antony directs Vigilance to look into the allegations. 
  • 2005 March:  CAG report alleges huge loss to the exchequer. 
  • 2006 February: Vigilance report recommends taking a case against 80 officials. Pinarayi Vijayan was not named in the report. 
  • 2006 March: Oommen Chandy government leaves the case to CBI. 
  • 2008 March: CBI interim report alleges huge loss to the state. 
  • 2009 January: CBI calculates 86.25 crores to state, lists Pinarayi Vijayan and 11 others as accused. 
  • 2013: CBI court discharges Pinarayi Vijayan in the case.