On Thursday, 9 February, the Kerala High Court withdrew a stay order granted to actor Unni Mukundan in an attempted sexual assault case.
News reports on the high court vacating the stay order unusually mentioned Mukundan’s counsel, Saiby Jose Kidangoor. The advocate was recently accused of accepting bribes from clients to bribe judges.
The Malikappuram actor has been accused of submitting a forged affidavit mentioning an out-of-court settlement between him and the woman complainant, who accused him of outraging her modesty four years ago.
Both cases — of the advocate and actor — have triggered a debate in Kerala and raised serious questions about the accountability and professional ethics of lawyers.
The high court vacated the stay on the trial proceedings in a lower court against Mukundan after the petitioner clarified that no out-of-court settlement has been reached and the affidavit submitted through Kidangoor could be forged.
The court has now asked the actor for a detailed counter-affidavit by 17 February, when the issue would be taken up for detailed consideration.
Related: Kerala HC no to stay on proceedings against lawyer Kidangoor
The case against Kidangoor
The police are now probing the charges against Advocate Kidangoor after the high court ordered the state police chief to expedite the investigation.
A day before the high court vacated the interim stay, Kidangoor resigned from the post of the president of the Kerala High Court Advocates’ Association.
Now, the investigation against Kidangoor and the outcome in the case against Mukundan are likely to open a Pandora’s Box — of money games allegedly played by senior lawyers for manipulating and misinterpreting facts to mislead judges.
Several lawyers South First spoke to opined that the Kidangoor case could just be the tip of the iceberg. They wanted a proper and thorough investigation, which might expose more serious fraud.
For Mukundan, the twist in the tale was unexpected. He was celebrating the box office success of his latest film, Malikappuram, when the stay was lifted.
Counsel for the complainant informed the court that she had never signed any compromise affidavit.
While vacating the stay, Justice K Babu remarked: “Get set for the hearing. You are answerable for how such a forged affidavit was produced. Playing fraud in court is a matter of grave concern. It is a forgery, and the petitioner has to answer.”
Mukundan obtained the stay on 7 May 2021.
While issuing the stay order, Justice Gopinath said: “The learned counsel (Kidangoor) for the petitioner (Mukundan) contends that the second respondent (the complainant) informed the petitioner that she does not wish to proceed with the complaint. Because the proceedings were initiated based on a private complaint and considering the whole facts and circumstances involved in the case, there will be an interim stay order as prayed for.”
The stay was later extended.
When the court observed that forgery was a criminal offence, Kidangoor was absent. Instead, one of his juniors attended the court.
Also read: HC stays proceedings in case against Minister Antony Raju
Kidangoor later told journalists that the complainant woman had emailed him saying she was not interested in proceeding with the case. He also claimed that he had produced the email in court.
Before his recent fall, Kidangoor was a powerful and influential Kochi-based advocate and a long-time president of the Kerala High Court Advocates’ Association.
He alleged in his resignation letter that some fellow lawyers were hatching a conspiracy against him as he had initiated a campaign for an organisational revamp democratically.
He said some association members were engaged in a smear campaign to paint him as a corrupt and shady character. He also alleged personal enmity and professional jealousy.
The advocate warned that the false allegations being raised against him would cast a blemish on the entire legal fraternity and the justice delivery system. He said the attempts would lower the profession’s dignity.
However, lawyers opposed to him stood firm. They said that his case reflected the degeneration of the legal profession in Kerala. They added that the police probe against Kidangoor was in the final stage.
Meanwhile, the high court rejected Kidangoor’s petition for quashing the FIR registered against him.
A top lawyer, who preferred anonymity, told South First that Kidangoor’s was not an isolated case.
Investigations are required against lawyers demanding “bribes for judges”. “In this case, the judge learned about the money Kidangoor allegedly collected misusing his name. So he directed the registrar to file a police complaint,” he said.
“Such unethical practices are rampant among lawyers. It should not be entertained since it would affect the credibility of the entire system,” he said.
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The trouble begins
The trouble began after a Malayalam film producer “lost” ₹25 lakh, which he had supposedly handed over to Kidangoor to be allegedly given to a judge as a bribe.
When the matter came up in court, the judge ruled against the producer in a sexual abuse case and he was refused bail. The producer then complained to another high court advocate that ₹25 lakh had changed hands.
The advocate shared the information with the judge concerned and a few others in the legal fraternity.
The special investigation team probing the case has collected the phone call records of Kidangoor and his clients.
“The allegations against Kidangoor expose an ugly face of the legal profession in Kerala. Such acts malign the whole criminal jurisprudence system. Some harsh cleaning measures must be initiated,” Sebastian Paul, a senior advocate, and former Lok Sabha member, told South First.
He said the false affidavit in the Mukundan case must be taken seriously as it involved a conspiracy to mislead and hoodwink the justice delivery process.
“Kerala has a robust judicial system, and people outside the state always hailed its fairness, transparency, and accountability. The latest developments are forcing us to hang our heads in shame. Bar associations and legal organisations must initiate remedial measures,” Advocate Harish Vasudevan of the high court said.
The case against Mukundan pertains to a 23 August, 2017, incident in which he allegedly tried to outrage the modesty of a young woman who had gone to his flat to narrate a possible storyline for a movie. She filed the case on 15 September of the same year, reports said.