Stating that former Punjab DGP Sumedh Singh Saini is a Z-plus category protectee, “meaning there is no chance of his absconding,” the Punjab and Haryana High Court Thursday granted him interim anticipatory bail in a corruption case. The court also directed Saini to surrender his passport and join the investigation within a week.
Saini had moved HC after a Mohali court rejected his anticipatory bail plea in a disproportionate assets case. The Punjab Vigilance Bureau booked Saini and six others under the Prevention of Corruption Act and sections of the IPC on August 2, alleging that the former DGP had acquired a house in Chandigarh in a “fraudulent deal” with “fake documents”.
“The court of Justice Avneesh Jhingan granted him interim anticipatory bail and asked him to join the investigation,” said Himmat Singh Deol, one of the counsel for the former DGP.
Senior Advocates Mukul Rohtagi and APS Deol appeared on behalf of Saini while senior advocate P Chidambaram appeared on behalf of the state of Punjab during the course of hearing. The court on Wednesday had reserved its order for Thursday after hearing detailed arguments on behalf of the petitioner and the state.
During the proceedings, Rohatgi and Deol contended that during Sani’s tenure in the Vigilance Bureau a number of criminal cases were registered against members of the political party now ruling Punjab. They contended that Saini is a victim of political vendetta and is being targeted by getting named in FIRs, this being fourth such case. They also contended that the property in question is in Chandigarh, the financial transactions took place in Chandigarh but the FIR is registered at Mohali.
It was further contended that Saini, who had a meritorious service tenure, is a Z-plus protectee, and faces threat to life from anti-social elements and terrorists. “There is no chance of his absconding. After retirement, due to threat perception and Z-plus protection, it was difficult for Saini to find a house on rent. It was the result of pressing needs that he agreed to pay heavy amount of security in advance and exorbitant rent for getting an accommodation in Chandigarh. All the transactions pointed out in the vigilance enquiry or in the FIR are banking transactions. The petitioner has explained the source of finances, which are also through banking channels. Vigilance enquiry and the FIR was with regard to amassing of disproportionate assets to known sources of income of Nimrat Deep Singh, executive engineer, PWD (B&M) Department. The contention is that naming petitioner in this FIR is only a blatant attempt to arrest him,” Saini’s lawyers submitted.
Opposing the prayer for grant of pre-arrest bail, Chidambaram, along with Sartej Singh Narula, Special Public Prosecutor, Punjab, contended that transactions made by the petitioner are suspicious. “Made up documents like a sale agreement have been produced. The sale agreement is doubtful as a person purchasing a property worth Rs 10.25 crore is making an agreement to sell on a plain paper. It is argued that to ensure that no trail is left of the transactions, no TDS (tax deducted at source) was deducted by the petitioner while paying monthly rent. The suspicion is that the petitioner was using his black money to plough it back as white money,” they submitted.
Chidambaram also refuted the defence contention of vindictive attitude of the state government against Saini, and submitted that the proceedings started with an enquiry against Nimrat Deep Singh. During inquiry, the transactions between the petitioner and Surinderjit Singh Jaspal surfaced and Saini was nominated.
Rohatgi, rebutting the Punjab counsel arguments, submitted that the enquiry was with regard to disproportionate assets of Nimrat Deep Singh, the petitioner only had a transaction with regard to rent and agreement to sell with Surinderjit Singh Jaspal. Saini has no role vis-a-vis the properties and bank balance of Nimrat Deep Singh and his family.
Justice Jhingan, after hearing the arguments said that senior counsel for Punjab have raised a doubt with regard to genuineness of the agreement to sell and that there was a violation of the provisions of Income Tax Act, 1961 by not deducting TDS while making payment of monthly rent. These issues, including the factual aspect of exact amount received from the builder for the property at Delhi, would be subject matter during the trial. The veracity of the explanation of the petitioner for making advance payment of security before the date of agreement to sell would be tested in the trial.
“Taking conceptuous of the facts and circumstances, antecedents of the petitioner and that he is having Z-plus protection, meaning thereby remains in a security cover, there is no chance of his absconding,” Justice Jhingan said in the order.
Though an apprehension was raised that the petitioner was ploughing back black money but the allegations were based upon documentary evidence and banking transactions. For joining loose ends, if any, with regard to the documentary evidence or banking transactions, this court is of the opinion that custodial interrogation of the petitioner is not required, it said.
“The petitioner is granted interim bail subject to his joining investigation within one week from today. In the event of arrest, he shall be released on bail subject to his furnishing adequate bail bonds to the satisfaction of the investigating officer,” the order stated.
The court directed the petitioner to join the investigation as and when called for. The court also asked the State of Punjab to ensure that the petitioner is not able to leave the country, and he will surrender his passport if not already surrendered.
The court fixed October 7 as the next date of hearing.