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HomeJudiciary'Witch hunt', 'annihilation of valuable rights' by ED — why PMLA court...

‘Witch hunt’, ‘annihilation of valuable rights’ by ED — why PMLA court granted bail to Sanjay Raut

Rajya Sabha member & Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray) party leader, arrested in alleged money laundering case, was released Wednesday after Bombay HC refused to pass stay order on his bail.

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New Delhi: Rajya Sabha member and Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray) party leader, Sanjay Raut, was released Wednesday, after about 100 days in custody, following the Bombay High Court’s refusal to stay a bail order granted to the politician by a Special PMLA Court Tuesday, in an alleged money laundering case.

The Rajya Sabha MP, and co-accused Pravin Raut, had been arrested in August in an alleged ₹1034 crore scam linked to the redevelopment of the Patra Chawl in Mumbai’s Goregaon West (Bombay).

The Special PMLA Court on Tuesday had granted bail to the accused on various grounds, but the Enforcement Directorate (ED) immediately rushed to the Bombay HC for a stay order.

The HC, however, did not interfere with the trial court order, postponing the hearing to Thursday.

The single judge bench of M.G. Deshpande of the PMLA Court, while allowing Raut’s bail, had passed scathing observations on the behaviour of the ED, criticising it for “illegal” arrest, “pick-and-choose rationale”, slow speed of probe process and for orchestrating a “witch hunt”.

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Arrest illegal, no necessity

Raut was brought to the ED office, and post extensive questing, arrested at about 12:35 AM on 1 August.

Deshpande took note of various instances, such as the timing of the arrest, to hold that the arrest was illegal. There was no legal necessity to arrest the accused, held the court, citing the 2014 Supreme Court verdict in the Arnesh Kumar case. Back then the apex court had held that arrest should only be made in cases where it was justifiable and necessary.

Deshpande held that the ED had ignored contemporary cases on the subject and that the extreme and exceptional power of effecting arrest ought to be used “very, very sparingly”.

The presence of the accused could have been ensured through summons or various other means, said the court.

It also took note that the ED did not arrest the main accused, Rakesh Wadhawan and Sarang Wadhawan, while it arrested Raut when he sought some time to remain present. It pointed to disparity and a pick-and-choose attitude for arrest, the court observed.

“Therefore, I am of the firm opinion that arrest of both accused (A3 and A5) is basically illegal without any qualifications required under Sec.19 of the PML Act”, the court held.

Section 19 of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002, provides for inbuilt safeguards for arrest under the Act, including the recording of reasons as to why the arrest is necessary.

Witch hunt, annihilation of rights, no regard for health

According to the PMLA court judgment, post the “unusual” arrest at midnight and during ED custody, Raut was kept in a room without any ventilation or windows, having scant regard for his recent angioplasty. Only after the intervention of the court did he get a room with some ventilation.

Taking note of the circumstances, the court said that the arrest of Raut was nothing more than a witch-hunt.

“All this prima-facie indicates that his arrest is nothing but a witch hunt and annihilation of his valuable rights,” said the court.

It also noted that while the speed of Raut’s arrest and custody by the ED was extraordinarily fast, once the accused was sent to judicial custody, the pace of the ED became extraordinarily slow in responding to bail applications and other tasks.

“Once the applicant (accused) files bail applications, ED takes at least three to four weeks or more than that to file their reply… Apart from this, in every matter it is noticed that, ED takes very very long time to reply (to) the simple applications filed by any accused”, the court noted.

It added that while the ED observes that it has power to arrest and that the offence is non-bailable under the PMLA, it “forgets” that there exists a provision for trial under the same legislation.

The court asked if the ED was not accountable for the “modus-operandi” availed by them during trial, and said it was duty-bound to make the agency aware of the trial procedure without fear or favour.

Further, it also passed strict observations on the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA), terming their behaviour (in handling the case and responses) “suspicious right from the beginning”. The contract for the Patra Chawl redevelopment was awarded to the executing agencies by the MHADA.

The court also observed that the bail applications of the accused had been pending for more than three to six months, and expressed displeasure at it. Bail applications must be decided expeditiously, keeping in view recent Supreme Court decisions, such as in the case of Satender Antil vs the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) this year, where the top court had said that bail applications must be dealt with expeditiously.

The PMLA Court further noted that since there was nothing on record to show that the accused had violated any bail conditions imposed on them, there is no likelihood that on being released on bail, they would commit an offence.

It accordingly allowed the bail applications filed by the accused.

The High Court will now review the order of the Special Court Thursday, in an appeal filed by the ED.

Akshat Jain is a student at the National Law University, Delhi, and an intern with ThePrint.

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)

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