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Last Updated: Monday, 25 April, 2005, 11:12 GMT 12:12 UK
India rail minister to face trial
Laloo Prasad Yadav
Mr Yadav says he is innocent
A court in India has charged federal Rail Minister Laloo Prasad Yadav with embezzling millions of dollars when he was chief minister of Bihar state.

The so-called fodder scam, in which state funds intended to be spent on animal fodder were allegedly siphoned off, first came to light in 1996.

Mr Yadav denies wrong-doing. He is among a number of top officials being investigated for alleged involvement.

The government has rejected opposition calls for his resignation.

Under Indian law, politicians are barred from office only if convicted of a crime.

Legal challenge

The judge in the special investigative court in Ranchi, capital of eastern Jharkhand state, charged Mr Yadav and nearly 70 others on Monday with embezzling millions of dollars in state funds intended for buying cattle fodder in 1996.

This is a politically motivated case
Rail Minister Laloo Prasad Yadav

The dairies from which funds were allegedly stolen are situated in Jharkhand, which split from Bihar in 2000.

Mr Yadav is alleged to have siphoned off $8.5m during his time as Bihar chief minister in the 1990s.

Another Bihar former chief minister, Jagannath Mishra, and at least four other civil servants were among those charged. If convicted, they could be jailed for up to seven years each.

Mr Yadav told the court he knew nothing about the alleged embezzlement. He told the BBC the charges against him were "politically motivated".

He has no moral right to stay on as federal minister
Vijay Kumar Malhotra
Bharatiya Janata Party

"The political parties in power in the union government use the anti-corruption agency [Central Bureau of Investigation] to settle scores with their political rivals," he said.

Mr Yadav's lawyers said they would challenge the charges in a higher court.

The minister's role has been investigated in seven of nearly 60 cases the CBI has filed in connection with the $143m fodder scam, a spokesman for the agency told the BBC.

Bihar power struggle

Mr Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) party is a key ally of India's ruling Congress party. Observers say the charges against him are a major embarassment for the government.

The opposition said he should be sacked immediately.

Bihar derelict school
Money mean for animal fodder was allegedly embezzled

"He has no moral right to stay on as federal minister. The prime minister should dismiss him immediately," a senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader, Vijay Kumar Malhotra, told reporters.

Mr Yadav is one of India's most controversial and colourful politicians. His troubles began in 1996 when government auditors discovered that state funds were missing in Bihar.

His wife, Rabri Devi, was installed as chief minister after he stepped down following corruption allegations in 1996.

Mr Yadav's party, which had ruled Bihar without a break for 15 years, lost its majority in elections in February.

On 7 March direct federal rule was imposed on the state as no party managed to cobble together a majority to install a government.

The lord of Bihar
30 Apr 04 |  South Asia
Profile: Laloo Prasad Yadav
22 Mar 04 |  South Asia
Bihar politician back in jail
21 Dec 01 |  South Asia
Laloo Prasad sent to jail
26 Nov 01 |  South Asia
Laloo Prasad taken into custody
05 Apr 00 |  South Asia

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