PATNA: An Indian court convicted a regional government ally of corruption on Monday, making him one of the first politicians set to be disqualified from parliament under new rules barring criminal MPs.
Lalu Prasad Yadav, a former federal minister whose Rashtriya Janata Dal party supports the ruling coalition, was found guilty along with 44 others of conspiracy and cheating over a scam which first came to light in 1996.
The conviction means Yadav is liable to be kicked out of federal parliament, following a recent Supreme Court ruling that national and state lawmakers be disqualified if they are found guilty of a serious crime.
Low-caste figurehead Yadav was chief minister of India's poorest state Bihar when some 380 million rupees or $6 million of public money allocated for buying cattle feed was allegedly siphoned off.
"Lalu was found guilty of criminal conspiracy, corruption and cheating," A.K. Singh, a lawyer for the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) which led the trial, told reporters.
Yadav did not say anything to media as he was escorted by police from the packed special CBI court in the city of Ranchi in the state of Jharkhand, which was part of Bihar until 2000.
The veteran politician was taken to prison before sentencing by the CBI court on Thursday, a police official in Ranchi said.
He could face between four and seven years in jail, according to local media reports.
The 66-year-old, known for his often amusing oratory in parliament, was born into a cow herder's family and is an outspoken critic of the elite.
He has always denied any wrongdoing.
His conviction comes after political controversy erupted last week over the Supreme Court's ruling in July that lawmakers should be barred if they are found guilty in criminal cases carrying jail terms of more than two years.
The Congress-led government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh drew up an executive order last week to negate the decision and shield convicted lawmakers from being ejected ahead of national elections next year.
But Congress party scion Rahul Gandhi called the order "nonsense" in a startling move that left the government red-faced.
The order still needs the president's approval and its future is unclear after Gandhi's comments.
If it fails to go into force, Yadav would be among the first thrown out.
A member of the ruling Congress party is also set to lose his seat after being convicted in a corruption case earlier this month.
Yadav, a former railways minister in the federal government, ruled the crime-ridden state of Bihar for 15 years.
He was backed mainly by his own caste of Yadavs, who are traditionally cow herders, as well as Muslims, but lost state polls in February 1997. (AFP)