Mumbai: The Bombay High Court on Tuesday upheld the 2018 verdict of the special CBI court acquitting former scribe Jigna Vora in the journalist J Dey murder case.
A bench of Justices B P Dharmadhikari and S K Shinde held that the prosecuting agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation, had failed to provide any direct evidence linking Vora to the 2011 killing.
In 2018, the special CBI court had convicted gangster Chhota Rajan and eight others for the murder but acquitted Vora and another person, Paulson Joseph, for lack of evidence.
The acquittal of Vora and Joseph was challenged by the CBI in the high court. The CBI had claimed in its chargesheet that Vora had complained against Dey, who was working with Mumbai-based English tabloid Mid-Day, to Rajan, who was then based abroad, out of professional rivalry.
Dey, 56, was shot dead by two motorcycle-borne assailants on June 11, 2011, in suburban Powai when he was on his way to his residence.
According to the prosecution, the killing was carried out at the behest of the gangster, who was purportedly unhappy with the negative reports that Dey had been writing about his frail health and diminishing clout in the underworld.
The bench said on Tuesday the CBI had based its case against Vora and others, including convicted accused Rajan, primarily on several phone calls made by the gangster, and some witnesses in the case.
However, none of these phone calls established that the killing was carried out at Vora's behest, the bench said. The CBI had stated that Vora had provided photographs of the journalist, his motorcycle's registration number, etc, to the gangster.
The agency had also cited as evidence some telephonic conversations between Rajan and his aides where he had apparently expressed remorse over having Dey killed.
Like the special court, the high court has also held that even the "extra judicial confession" (a confession made outside of court, or, not in front of a law officer) made by Rajan did not "mention anywhere that he was instigated by Vora or any other person".
Upholding Vora's acquittal, the HC took note of the special court's finding that recovery of various mobile phones and SIM cards owned by Vora and the relevant call detail records had failed to connect her directly to the case.
"There is no direct evidence showing that the accused (Vora) had any knowledge of the crime (so) it cannot be held that Vora was complicit in the conspiracy to kill Dey," the bench observed.
The appeal against Joseph's acquittal is pending hearing in the HC. Rajan is currently lodged at Tihar jail in Delhi following his arrest in Indonesia and subsequent deportation to India in October 2015.