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Defamation case: Ram Jethmalani slams Arun Jaitley, promises to fight ‘poor’ Arvind Kejriwal’s case pro bono

Delhi chief minister and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) convener Arvind Kejriwal has found himself yet another controversy and right when the MCD elections are round the corner. According to reports, Kejriwal, who was embroiled in a high-powered legal battle with Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, sent his legal bill of Rs 3.42 crore to Lieutenant General Anil Baijal’s office for clearance.

As the news gained currency on Tuesday, Jethmalani went on record and blamed Jaitley for instigating the issue. Speaking to ANI, Jethmalani said, “I charge only the rich but for poor I work for free. All this is instigated by Jailtley who is afraid of my cross-examination. Even now if Delhi government does not pay or he cannot pay I will appear for free. I will treat Kejriwal as one of my poor clients.”

Kejriwal had employed a string of lawyers, including Ram Jethmalani, who alone raised a bill of Rs 1 crore. According to The Times Of India, the bill raised by Jethmalani on 1 December, 2016, quotes Rs 1 crore retainer for representing Kejriwal and an additional Rs 22 lakh per appearance. Jethmalani made 11 appearances so far, leading to a total of Rs 3.42 crore, even before the cross examination stage is over.

In December, Sisodia had asked for releasing appearance fee to Jethmalani who has been fighting defamation case slapped against Kejriwal by Jaitley, sources have told PTI. They said that the amount of pending dues to the noted lawyer is more than Rs 3 crore and the law department had said that why the Delhi government should foot the bills when the case is not related to the city administration. Sisodia, on 6 December, 2016, on the file sent to the LG wrote that it be cleared because the matter was linked to CBI raids on the CM’s office on 15 December, 2015, wherein several files were seized. The Times of India, who has access to the files, reported that the file goes on to say that “the Chief Minister made statements in the media explaining the stand of the government on such raids. Defamation cases, criminal as well as civil, were filed against the chief minister pursuant to the statements made in his official capacity”. Experts have said that Kejriwal and Jaitley were fighting the case in their personal capacities and if Kejriwal wanted it to be a matter involving as the chief minister he should have invoked Section 80 of the Civil Procedure Code. Baijal is learnt to have sought Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar’s advice in clearing the bills submitted by deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia who had signed off on the bills. The move by Baijal comes after the law department of Delhi government, responding to a note by Sisodia, said that Baijal’s permission for clearing the bills was necessary. Jaitley in 2015 had filed a criminal defamation complaint against Kejriwal and AAP leaders Raghav Chadha, Kumar Vishwas, Ashutosh, Sanjay Singh and Deepak Bajpai over their comments over the Delhi District Cricket Association (DDCA) controversy, seeking their prosecution for offences that entail a punishment of up to two years in jail. A civil defamation suit has also been filed by Jaitley before the Delhi High Court in relation to the matter seeking Rs 10 crore in damages. Sources said that the Lt Governor is learnt to have written to Kumar seeking his advice on whether the payment should be cleared or not. Explaining why Kejriwal expects the government (and eventually Delhi taxpayers) should foot the legal bills, one AAP leader told NDTV, “A raid happened at the chief minister’s office and his statements (against Jaitley) followed. It was an attack on the chief minister of Delhi.” BJP spokesperson Tajinder Bagga tweeted on Monday evening.

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