AMONG the nine names cleared by the Supreme Court collegium for appointment as chief justices of various high courts is that of Justice Hemant Gupta, currently acting Chief Justice in the Patna High Court but originally from Punjab and Haryana High Court.
Justice Gupta’s role is under the scanner in an ongoing money laundering investigation by the Enforcement Directorate (ED). While the ED investigation had said that his wife, Alka Gupta, had been “identified as associates and beneficiaries in the process of money-laundering through structuring of shell entities”, Justice Gupta had courted controversy when he called up the then investigating officer (IO) Gopesh Byadwal, asking him about the ongoing investigations into RMC
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The Indian Express had first reported about Justice Gupta’s call to Byadwal, in November 2015, the ED had also sent notices to his wife and others in the case. She had sent a detailed response to the notice.
On July 1 last year, in a sudden move, the ED headquarters shifted the investigation into the high-profile case registered by the ED, Chandigarh, against, among others, the judge’s wife and advocate Mukesh Mittal, from Chandigarh to Delhi.
Not only this, Byadwal was also relieved from his post at the end of the tenure in November last year even though he had sought extension of his deputation period, which is routinely allowed to ensure that ongoing investigations in big cases are not hampered.
While the investigation has virtually come to a standstill, it is now clear that much before he went back to his parent cadre, Byadwal, then ED assistant director, Chandigarh, sent a detailed note underlining the fact that Justice Gupta and his wife had been “identified as associates and beneficiaries in the process of money-laundering through structuring of shell entities”.
Byadwal’s 12-page note dated May 20, 2016, accessed by The Indian Express, is part of the case file with ED headquarters here and was prepared as a response to a letter sent by the Registrar General of the Patna High Court, seeking a status in “respect of inquiry under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 against Mrs Alka Gupta, wife of Hon’ble Mr Justice Hemant Gupta, now Judge of Patna High Court”.
It also talks of the families of Justice Gupta and Mukesh Mittal being “closely associated in two shell companies”.
Reached over phone, the current IO, A H Khan, assistant director, ED, Delhi, said he wasn’t authorised to speak to the media.
In the report, the previous IO says that during investigation into a money laundering case against advocate Mukesh Mittal, as per documents seized during raids on six properties and other official records “the names of other people came out and out of which the names of Smt Alka Gupta and Smt Bimla Gupta, wife and mother, respectively, of Justice Sh. Hemant Gupta and Sh Hemant Gupta have also emerged in some properties”.
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”After search action u/s 17 of the PMLA, complaints from many complainants were also received by this Office. Out of which some complaints are pertaining to Mukesh Mittal, Justice Sh Hemant Gupta, Smt Alka Gupta and Smt Bimla Gupta,” the note says.
Listing four Chandigarh properties, the former IO’s note then says, “Further out of the seized documents of various properties and complaints received from various complainants it has emerged that Smt Alka Gupta, Smt Bimla Gupta and Justice Sh Hemant Gupta have been found to be an associate of Mukesh Mittal in the following properties which are suspected properties and are under investigation”.
Mukesh Mittal’s brother Chetan Mittal is currently assistant solicitor general in the Punjab and Haryana High Court and has been representing the ED in many important cases even though his own role in the case involving his brother is also under the scanner.
As first reported by this newspaper, the ED sent notices under Section 50 of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), 2002 to Alka Gupta and Chetan Mittal November 5.
On file is another document prepared by Byadwal — a 34-page reply to ED (Chandigarh Zone) Joint Director about the “specific role of Smt Alka Gupta w/o Justice Sh Hemant Gupta, Judge of Patna High Court”.
In this note, sent on June 30, 2016, Byadwal refers to complaints containing “serious allegations against Justice Sh Hemant Gupta for acquiring immovable properties, extravagant expenses for reconstruction of his House”, but says that “this Directorate is/was not in a position to proceed against the sitting Judge nor has proceeded against him till date”.
“Therefore, these complaints were not made part of the letter sent by the worthy JDE to the Chandigarh Police dated 04.01.2016. These complaints can only be pursued/investigated by this Directorate only after obtaining due sanction from the Hon’ble Chief Justice of the concerned High Court,” he adds.
Referring to the complaints against Justice Gupta, the IO, while pointing out that they can be investigated only after “obtaining due permission from the Hon’ble Chief Justice of Patna High Court” — incidentally, Justice Gupta himself is the Acting CJ now — “as the complaints are against a sitting judge of the High Court”
“In the circumstances, permission is sought from the worthy JD to seek sanction from the Hon’ble the Chief Justice Patna High Court to proceed as per the procedure and provisions of law,” the IO recommended. Sources said the Joint Director hadn’t done anything on this issue until the investigation was shifted out of Chandigarh.
It also says that two properties for which Alka Gupta and (Justice) Hemant Gupta “have admitted to beneficial ownership are the case property under Section 22 of PMLA 2002”.
Incidentally, this note also refers to the fact that Justice Gupta, then a senior Judge of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, made a phone call to Byadwal, asking him about the investigation into RMC Printers Private Limited, a company in which his wife was earlier a Director.
“As Smt Alka Gupta is wife of a sitting High Court judge who had made a telephone call to the undersigned in connection with the probe by this Directorate against the company RMC Printers Private Limited in which his wife was a Director proper investigation is required to be conducted in this case to bring out the truth without fear or bias,” he says.
In response to another query with regard to Alka Gupta, the then IO’s report says, “It has also come to the notice of this office that the name of Smt Alka Gupta w/o Sh Hemant Kumar (Justice Sh Hemant Gupta) appears in some of the companies, properties, documents, GPA, which gives rise to suspicion of multiple financial transactions with Mukesh Mittal Advocate, his family members and associates. Therefore, it is revealed that Smt Alka Gupta is involved with Mittal Advocates and their associates in some clandestine business activities, due to which she has acquired beneficial interest in various properties by paying nil or near nil consideration. In the investigation grave offences are being made out, including laundering, tax evasion, introduction of ill-gotten money, violation of various laws and statutes.”
In April 2015, when The Indian Express spoke to Justice Gupta he had refused to offer any comment on the phone call made by him. While acknowledging that there were any real estate dealings between his family and the family of advocate Mittal, the judge had said, “It is all a matter of record. The police have given a report after thorough investigation. I hope you will also do your own proper investigation.”