2 Indian politicians jailed for embezzling funds

PATNA, India (AP) — A special court Thursday sentenced two former chief ministers of the eastern Indian state of Bihar to jail for embezzling millions of dollars in the 1990s with bogus bills for cattle feed.

Former chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav, a current member of India’s Parliament, was sentenced to five years in jail and ordered to pay a $40,000 fine after he was convicted earlier this week of embezzling funds intended to buy food for cattle during his tenure as Bihar’s top elected official in the mid-1990s.

Jagannath Mishra, another ex-chief minister of Bihar, was sentenced to four years in jail for his involvement in the scam, said B.M.P. Singh, a prosecution lawyer.

Singh read out a list of names of some 44 other bureaucrats and politicians who were also convicted of embezzling more than $150 million of state funds that were meant to buy fodder for cattle belonging to impoverished farmers in the state.

The verdict makes Yadav one of the country’s first politicians to face political disqualification under a new Supreme Court order banning convicts from public office.

Yadav has denied the allegations and his family members have said that the 65-year old leader will appeal the verdict in a higher court.

The charismatic Yadav is credited with changing the shape of Indian politics previously dominated by the elite classes by galvanizing low-caste Hindus into a powerful voting bloc.

He served as Bihar’s highest elected official from 1990 to 1997, when he was forced to resign amid allegations that he was pocketing funds meant for farmers in the desperately poor state of Bihar. He spent five months in jail that year, while his wife took over as chief minister.

Yadav later served as the federal railway minister in 2004-09. He has maintained he is innocent of the charges, which were filed in 1998. He and his wife, Rabri Devi, were acquitted in a separate case that accused them of accumulating wealth and property beyond their legal incomes.

Yadav’s conviction came a day after the government withdrew a controversial executive order exempting legislators from the Supreme Court ban on convicts holding political office.

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