October 13, 2021 11:03:27 pm
The Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Wednesday opposed the plea by former Maharashtra home minister Anil Deshmukh seeking quashing of summons issued by the Central agency, asking him to appear before it in connection with a money-laundering and corruption case.
It said that plea in the Bombay High Court was not maintainable as the agency had the “right to investigate” and collect evidence in any case and bring the guilty to book.
The HC has reserved its verdict in Deshmukh’s plea.
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 that it had a right to question the suspect at the place and time as per its discretion, adding Deshmukh cannot decide the manner of 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.
The Central agency, through Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Aman Lekhi, was making submissions before a division bench of Justice Nitin M Jamdar and Justice Sarang V Kotwal, which was hearing a plea filed by Deshmukh seeking quashing of summons issued by the ED, asking him to appear before it in connection with a money laundering and corruption case.
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, as he had apprehended 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.
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 that 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 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. There is no malafide in the case initiated by the agency,” Lekhi argued and sought dismissal of the plea.
After closing submissions, the HC reserved its verdict in Deshmukh’s plea. The court will pronounce its verdict on the appeal in due course.
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