//India's Coal Minister Shibu Soren arrested after murder conviction

India's Coal Minister Shibu Soren arrested after murder conviction

Tue Nov 28, 2006

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Coal Minister Shibu Soren was taken into custody on Tuesday after a New Delhi court convicted him in a conspiracy to kidnap and murder his former private secretary 12 years ago.

Soren was asked to resign from the cabinet by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh soon after the news broke, a spokesman for Singh said.

Four others accused in the case were also convicted while two were found not guilty. The court is expected to sentence the five on Thursday. Soren could be sentenced to a life term.

Soren, who had pleaded not guilty, was present in the court when the verdict was read and was led away by policemen amid a large crowd of media and supporters.

The victim, Shashi Nath Jha, had gone missing in May 1994 and his body was later found in Ranchi, capital of Jharkhand, Soren's home state.

The prosecution had made out a case that Jha had knowledge of bribes allegedly paid by then Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao to Soren and other members of his party and was blackmailing Soren.

Soren, 62, is a tribal leader and represents the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, a regional party and ally of the ruling Congress Party.

He was re-appointed to the government in Nov. 2004, four months after he quit after being charged of inciting arson and violence during a tribal protest in 1975.

He had evaded arrest for more than two weeks after an arrest warrant was issued in 2004 and then turned himself in to police. He got out on bail later and then rejoined the government.

He quit the government again in 2005 to become chief minister of Jharkhand but the state government fell within days and Soren returned to the central government this year.