Union Coal Minister Shibu Soren was on Tuesday held guilty of involvement in the killing of his private secretary Shashi Nath Jha 12 years ago by a Delhi court in the first such conviction of a Union Minister in a murder case.
Soren stepped down from the cabinet after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sought his resignation in the wake of the verdict.
The 62-year-old chief of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha was found guilty by Special Judge B R Kedia for conspiring to kidnap and murder of 40-year-old Jha, who was aware of the details about the bribe received by Soren to support the minority P V Narasimha Rao Government in 1993.
"Shibu Soren is convicted under sections 120-B (Criminal Conspiracy) read with 364 (kidnapping) and 302 (murder) of the Indian Penal Code," the Judge said.
The quantum of sentence will be decided after arguments for which hearing has been fixed on November 30. The punishment under these sections ranges from life imprisonment to death penalty.
The court also convicted four others -- Nand Kishore Mehta alias Nandu, Shailendra Bhattacharya, Pashupati Nath Mehta alias Posho and Ajay Kumar Mehta alias Dilip -- on same counts. However, it acquitted two others -- Sunil Khaware and Asish Thakur.
Earlier, in his tenure in this government, Soren had to resign after a Jharkhand court issued a non-bailable warrant against him in connection with Chirudih massacre case during Jharkhand movement agitation in 1975 in which 10 people were killed.
He is on bail in the case and was re-inducted into the cabinet early this year.
Soon after the court ordered that they be taken into custody, a pensive looking Soren told his colleagues of his uneasiness. The associates and Soren himself told the judge he wants to be checked up in a hospital.
The pronouncement of verdict in the case prosecuted by the CBI was scheduled for 1500 hours but was delayed by over two hours as the judge gave final touches. All the accused including Soren and his supporters and media persons were not allowed inside the courtroom till the judge called them.
Soren was the last accused to arrive at the court along with posse of security personnel.
After the verdict, one of the JMM parliamentarians Sunil Mahto told reporters that they will appeal against the conviction of their leader. After consulting lawyers they will also file a bail application.
"We and our Guruji (Soren) respect the judgment of the court but we will file an appeal against it," Mahto said.
The CBI had said Jha's knowledge of the alleged deal between Congress and JMM to save the then P V Narasimha Rao government in the January 1993 no-confidence motion had led to his murder.
The agency had also contended that three days before his mysterious disappearance, Jha had allegedly sodomised a JMM activist -- a relative of Soren. The chargesheet had alleged that Jha was taken by Nandu, the prime accused and five others at a house at Piska in Ranchi on May 22, 1994 and after that they killed him in a nearby jungle and buried his body. The agency had said Jha was last seen in the company of Mehta.
CBI had exhumed a skeleton from Piska Nagari in 1998 and claimed it was that of Jha. Following the recovery of the skeleton, Soren and six others were arrested in the case.
CBI had said Jha had on several occasions allegedly demanded money from Soren to suppress the facts relating to the no-confidence motion. The investigating agency had said that Soren initially paid Rs 15 lakh to Jha to establish a garment export factory in South Delhi and when the business failed, the victim began extorting money, which finally led to his murder.