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Delhi HC protects NewsClick owner from coercive action

ED had raided the premises of NewsClick and residences of its editors in February in connection with a case of alleged money laundering and conducted search and seizure operations.

ED officials look through files at the office of Newsclick , during a raid in New Delhi. (Express Photo by Tashi Tobgyal/File)

THE DELHI High Court late Monday night directed the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to not take any coercive action against PPK Newsclick Studio Private Limited, which owns the news portal NewsClick, and company director Prabir Purkayastha until July 5.

While issuing a notice to ED in a petition seeking a copy of the Enforcement Case Information Report (ECIR) registered by ED against NewsClick, Justice Jasmeet Singh also asked Delhi Police to respond to another petition filed by the news portal’s owners for quashing of the case registered by the Economic Offence Wing against it last year.

The court granted ED two weeks to file a reply in the case seeking the copy of ECIR.

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The ED had raided the premises of NewsClick and residences of its editors in February in connection with a case of alleged money laundering and conducted search and seizure operations. The ED case related to alleged foreign funding is based on an FIR registered by Delhi Police’s Economic Offence Wing (EOW) last year.

The vacation bench of Justice Singh began hearing the petitions filed by NewsClick, through advocate Arshdeep Singh Khurana, around 10.15 pm. The court passed the order at 11.20 pm after hearing the counsels representing the media organisation, the ED and the Delhi Police.

NewsClick and its editor-in-chief Purkayastha in the petition related to the ED case sought a copy of the ECIR and protection from any coercive action in the meantime.

Senior advocate Dayan Krishnan, representing the company, submitted before the court that it received the copy of EOW’s FIR only on June 5 after approaching the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate and is yet to receive the copy of ECIR from ED. “Unless I know what the allegations against me are, how do I take the legal remedies,” argued Krishnan, seeking a stay on coercive steps in the meantime.

Krishnan, who also represents NewsClick editor-in-chief Purkayastha, told the court that Worldwide Media Holdings LLC invested money in NewsClick in April 2018 when there was no cap on foreign direct investment in digital media. “The whole idea is to somehow create a PMLA (Prevention of Money Laundering Act) jurisdiction… but at least show me what the case is,” he submitted.

Advocate Avi Singh, representing EOW, submitted that they will proceed in accordance with law and issue a notice before taking any coercive action. Singh opposed the prayer for interim protection.

Advocate Amit Mahajan, representing ED, submitted that Purkayastha should have filed anticipatory bail plea in case he apprehends arrest. “ECIR is just a file number; that is not an FIR which is to be provided to anyone…that is my internal file but that does not mean investigation cannot take place,” Mahajan submitted.

He said the probe in the case has been going on since February 2021.

Mahajan also told the court that NewsClick and its management had been aware of the proceedings since February. He opposed any order from protection against coercive action in the case. “As and when action is taken, you will be at liberty to come to court,” he argued.

However, Krishnan argued that Purkayastha could approach the court for anticipatory bail only when he knows the details about the ED case against him.

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