Can make laws to confiscate ill-gotten wealth at pre-trial stage: Apex court

The bench said the provisions for confiscation of properties amassed through illegal means at a pre-trial stage cannot be said to be violating any fundamental right of the accused concerned.

Written by Utkarsh Anand | New Delhi | Published: December 11, 2015 3:43 am

Describing corruption as a “national economic terror”, the Supreme Court Thursday upheld the validity of special laws made by Bihar and Odisha governments to confiscate ill-gotten properties of “a person holding high public office or political office” at a pre-trial stage.

A bench of Justices Anil R Dave and Dipak Misra held that the laws enacted by the two states are not “unjust, unfair and arbitrary” since they seek to achieve a legislative intent of curbing corruption at high offices.

“The legislative intent is to curb corruption at high places and requires the accused persons to face trial in the special court in a speedier manner and also to see that the beneficiaries of ill-gotten property or money do not enjoy the property or money during trial,” noted the bench.

It said those holding high offices have opportunities to accumulate disproportionate assets other than his known sources of income and that they form a separate class. “The legislature, regard being had to the position the public servant holds, has put them in a different class,” said the court as it affirmed the constitutional validity of the Orissa Special Courts Act, 2006 and the Bihar Special Courts Act, 2009.

The bench said the provisions for confiscation of properties amassed through illegal means at a pre-trial stage cannot be said to be violating any fundamental right of the accused concerned.

“The property obtained by ill-gotten gains, if prima facie found to be such by the authorised officer (judge), is to be confiscated. An accused has no vested right as regards the interim measure. He is not protected by any constitutional right to advance the plea that he cannot be made liable to face confiscation proceedings of the property which has been accumulated by illegal means,” it noted.

The court was unequivocal that a person cannot be allowed to indulge in corruption and at the same time seek protection for a roof over his head if a finding is recorded that the house is constructed or purchased by corrupt means. It pointed out that an accused gets sufficient opportunities under these laws to satisfy the judge about the sources of buying properties and it is only after an inquiry the order of confiscation is passed.

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