A local court here on Friday acquitted Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis in a complaint lodged against him for alleged non-disclosure of criminal cases pending against him in his poll affidavit submitted ahead of the 2014 assembly elections.
Civil Judge S S Jadhav, while holding Fadnavis "nirdosh mukta" (acquitted), noted that there was no "mens rea" (intention) on his part (to not disclose the relevant information). The senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader, an MLA from Nagpur, was present in the court virtually.
Satish Uke, a Nagpur-based advocate, had filed an application seeking criminal proceedings against Fadnavis alleging that cases of cheating and forgery had been registered against the BJP leader in 1996 and 1998, but he did not disclose this information in his poll affidavit.
Fadnavis (53), who served as chief minister from 2014 to 2019, had submitted to the court in April this year that the non-disclosure of the relevant information was an inadvertent mistake on part of his previous lawyer.
His current advocates Deven Chauhan and Uday Dable on Friday said the court has held that the complainant has failed to prove that Fadnavis had not disclosed the two cases in the affidavit with an intent or knowledge that such a non-disclosure would help him win elections.
"The complainant (Uke) has failed to make out a case against Fadnavis under section 125A of the Representation of People Act," the lawyers said.
Under this section, an offence is made out only when a person hides cases pending against him or her with an intent or knowledge that such a non-disclosure would help them win elections, Chauhan said.
The Deputy CM had earlier admitted before the court in a statement that there had been an inadvertent mistake on the part of his then-lawyer while collating information about pending criminal cases against him due to which two criminal matters were not mentioned in his election affidavit submitted in 2014.
Fadnavis, in the statement submitted on April 15, had said there was no intention to deliberately conceal information about the two "insignificant" complaint cases and their non-inclusion in the affidavit of Form 26 was sheer inadvertence and without any intention.
The MLA from Nagpur South West assembly constituency had appeared before the court on two occasions to record his statement.
Uke is currently in jail after he was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate on charges of money laundering. In 2014, when Uke's complaint was heard for the first time, the civil court had ruled against Fadnavis, but the verdict was later quashed by the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court.
The advocate had then challenged the HC order before the Supreme Court which held that a case was made for the prosecution of the BJP leader.
The apex court set aside the judgment of the HC and remanded the matter for trial afresh. Fadnavis later filed a review petition against this order, which the apex court dismissed in 2020.