Indian court convicts ruling party lawmaker of graft

A lawmaker from India's ruling Congress party was Tuesday jailed for four years for corruption, becoming the first MP to lose his parliamentary seat under new rules for convicted politicians, reports said.

Rasheed Masood, 66, was convicted last month of cheating, conspiracy and forgery in a nearly 20-year-old graft case that involved fraudulent nominations of students in medical colleges.

The court which sentenced Masood Tuesday also imposed four-year jail terms on two retired bureaucrats and one year of imprisonment on nine students in the case, the Press Trust of India (PTI) and other media reported.

V.N. Ojha, a lawyer for the Central Bureau of Investigation which led the trial, told the judge that Masood had "spoiled the career of meritorious students" by nominating undeserving candidates including his own nephew.

"He....should be given maximum punishment as the students who suffered nearly two decades ago cannot be compensated for," the prosecutor was quoted as saying by PTI.

Masood can appeal in the High Court but is disqualified from parliament after the Supreme Court ruled in July that convicts will have to vacate their seats in the legislature even during an appeal.

The fate of Masood, a member of the upper house of the national parliament, appeared sealed, after the government's move to pass an executive order that would have allowed convicted lawmakers to stay in office was abruptly stalled last week.

The planned order was criticised vociferously by Rahul Gandhi -- vice-president of Congress and scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty who is the face of the party before elections next year.

The government is likely to withdraw the decree after a meeting of the cabinet on Wednesday.

Masood's sentencing comes just a day after a court in the eastern state of Jharkhand found Congress regional ally Lalu Prasad Yadav guilty of a multi-million dollar scam in which public money intended to buy cattle feed was siphoned off.

The convictions are a blow to Congress as it gears up for a tough electoral battle next year.

Masood, who hails from the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, served as junior health minister in the early 1990s.

Defence lawyers had pleaded for leniency, citing his age and health, while the prosecution had asked for the maximum seven-year sentence.