The Bombay High Court has rejected a plea of former Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh, seeking quashing of summons issued by the Enforcement Directorate (ED), asking him to appear before it in connection with a money laundering and corruption case.
The court, however, granted liberty to Deshmukh to move a competent court seeking relief under Section 438 CrPC for protection from arrest.
“All prayers rejected, except the prayer for applicant’s lawyer to remain present at visible distance but beyond audible range during questioning.
“To conclude, the applicant has failed to make out a case under Section 482 CrPC and for no coercive action against the applicant. Like any other person apprehending arrest, he shall approach the competent court under section 438 of CrPC,” the HC held.
A division bench of Justice Nitin M Jamdar and Justice Sarang V Kotwal had concluded the hearing and reserved its judgement on October 13.
The ED has issued at least five summonses to Deshmukh, asking him to appear before it. Deshmukh, however, has not complied with any of them.
The ED probe has claimed that Deshmukh, as Maharashtra’s home minister, had “received illegal gratification of approximately Rs 4.7 crore in cash from various orchestra bar owners” between December 2020 and February 2021 through now-dismissed Mumbai Police officer Sachin Waze.
Deshmukh sought quashing of summons and interim protection from coercive action while apprehending arrest under the provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).
Senior counsel Vikram Chaudhri and advocate Aniket Nikam, appearing for Deshmukh, had told the HC that he is willing to cooperate with the probe, provided it is undertaken with “objectivity” and without “arbitrariness” and “vendetta”.
Seeking relief, Chaudhri argued that the ED had initiated proceedings against Deshmukh based on claims made by those who are accused of “heinous offences such as murder and extortion”, and that the same should not be relied upon by the court.
The ED, through Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Aman Lekhi, had opposed the plea by Deshmukh and said it was not maintainable as the agency had the “right to investigate” and collect evidence in any case and bring the guilty to book. The ED said that despite issuing summons as per procedure and law to interrogate him pertaining to material allegedly seized from him, Deshmukh was reluctant to appear in person which indicated that he was aware that he could be arrested due to the “material against him”.
The agency further said it had a right to question the suspect at the place and time as per its discretion, adding Deshmukh cannot decide the manner of the probe. No relief should be granted to him as investigation is at initial stage and intervention by the HC would stall the entire process, as the Supreme Court had also refrained from granting any protection to Deshmukh, it said.
ASG Lekhi responded that the plea was “misconceived” as the ED had only issued summons to Deshmukh under PMLA, which stipulates personal appearance of the suspect at the ED office.
“However, Deshmukh apprehended that he would be arrested if he appeared in person and approached the HC instead…the same indicated that he was withholding some information and wanted to stifle and interdict the probe,” Lekhi added.
He said if Deshmukh was alleging “malice,” he should make those whom he was accusing of being “murderers and extortionists” parties to the petition.
“He (Deshmukh) is not appearing but just giving replies. There is no unfairness, violation of due process (by ED). He cannot decide the manner and method of investigation. Who is he? He might have been a senior government official at one point of time. But right now, he is a common man and he has to abide by due process of law and procedures, but he chose not to. There are no privileges anymore. ” Lekhi argued and sought dismissal of the plea.
In his plea in HC, Deshmukh sought permission to submit documents or statements to ED through electronic mode and be represented for attendance before ED through an “authorised agent”. He had also sought direction to entrust the investigation to an SIT comprising ED officers from outside Mumbai Zonal office and to monitor the probe as per the ratio laid down by the Supreme Court.
The ED probe has claimed that Deshmukh, while in office as the home minister of Maharashtra, “received illegal gratification of approximately Rs 4.7 crore in cash from various orchestra bar owners” between December 2020 and February 2021 through now-dismissed Mumbai police officer Sachin Waze.
The ED probe into Deshmukh’s financial transactions is in line with the CBI probe into former Mumbai Police commissioner Param Bir Singh’s allegations of corruption against the NCP leader. The CBI initiated a preliminary probe based on the April 5 HC order and had registered FIR on April 21. Deshmukh has denied the allegations.
The detailed order will be made available in due course.