THE SUPREME Court on Wednesday said the government was free to look into allegations against Enforcement Directorate (ED) officer Rajeshwar Singh, who is investigating the Aircel-Maxis case, after the Centre submitted a secret report against him in court. On November 1, 2017, the court had restrained the government from acting against Singh.
While the ED sought to defend Singh, BJP leader Subramanian Swamy used the issue to target Finance Secretary Hasmukh Adhia, linking it to the Nirav Modi case.
Disposing of a clutch of petitions — filed by Delhi resident Rajneesh Kapur accusing Singh of amassing disproportionate assets, by Singh seeking contempt action for alleged delay in the Aircel-Maxis probe, and an application by Swamy seeking to implead in the case — the court said: “We direct that the government is free to look into the materials against respondent number 3 (Rajeshwar Singh) and the same can be looked into.”
The court observed that no officer should be under a “cloud”. “You (Singh) are simply an officer. You can’t be given a blanket clean chit. Everybody is accountable. You must be accountable for any action. We need to ensure that you are accountable. We don’t want to damage you or comment against you. There are very serious allegations against you,” it said.
The bench of Justices Arun Mishra and S K Kaul left it to the government to decide whether Singh should be associated with the Aircel-Maxis case.
Appearing for the Centre, Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Vikramjit Banerjee said the government was ready to probe the charges against Singh, but the SC order protecting him was coming in the way. Banerjee also handed over a communication in a sealed cover.
After perusing the document, the bench said, “As a matter of fact, when there is an allegation, whether right or wrong, against you (Singh), it has to be looked into… We had given six months time (to CBI and ED to complete the ongoing investigation) and protection was granted (to Singh). This matter is highly sensitive from the country’s point of view. We cannot just divulge the content of this (report in sealed cover) to anybody. It may prejudice your client (Singh) also. It is not advisable that it goes into public domain.”
“The other issue is that you should not be victimised. The third point is whether it would be appropriate for you to investigate when you are under a cloud and under investigation,” the bench said, adding “the things which have come before us are startling”. Saying that “it is highly sensitive” and “issues of nation’s security are involved”, the court said, “we cannot shut our eyes to it”.
“Let there be a fair investigation and the person who is investigating, according to my opinion, should not have a cloud over him,” Justice Mishra observed.
Kapur’s counsel claimed that after filing the petition, Kapur has been “gravely threatened” and sought protection.
Swamy, who had filed a plea seeking permission to implead as a party in Kapur’s petition, alleged that a top officer was “inimical” to Singh due to what had happened in the Nirav Modi case, and he was willing to state this in an affidavit. When the bench said no personal insinuations should be made, Swamy said, “I am withdrawing it”.
PTI reported that later in the day, Swamy held a press conference where he made public the document, which he claimed was placed in a sealed cover before the top court by the Centre.
He alleged that there was no basis for the Finance Ministry to file a report of the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) in the court as it was of year 2016, which was already available on Twitter. He said even after the report, Singh was promoted to the post of Joint Director of Enforcement Directorate (ED) and at that time, there was no problem.
Targeting Adhia in a tweet, Swamy said: “This Finance Secretary has held up the already cleared promotion to Additional Director ED of Dr Rajeshwar citing this stupid RAW intercept. Wait till I prosecute him for preventing DRI investigation of Nirav Modi’s DRI raid on Jan 14, 2017. Gold Biscuits!”
According to the PTI report, Swamy claimed that “some powerful people” were after Singh as he was investigating the Aircel-Maxis case. He even targeted the law officer who appeared for the Centre before the apex court in the matter today, and asked on whose instructions had he opposed him and Singh in the court.
Meanwhile, referring to the disclosure that Singh received a call from Dubai, an ED spokesperson said: “To put the record straight, Dr Rajeshwar Singh received a call in 2016 from a person based out of Dubai who gave important information regarding a case being investigated by the ED… Singh, being a responsible officer with outstanding career record, passed on this information to the Directorate and the same was used in the investigation of the case.”
A senior finance ministry official, however, said the ED officer was now “trying to make undue allegations just to save his skin”. “If he is a clean officer, why is there a need for him to worry? Let independent inquiry prove so. As the court has taken cognizance of the facts, let an independent inquiry/ investigation be done. If he is clear and transparent, he should not worry about these things. The wild allegations of harassment and denial of his due promotion are baseless. From time to time, appropriate actions have been taken as per rule. The government will go within the scope of law and as per Court’s order,” the official said.
Officials said Singh has proceeded on leave following the Supreme Court order.
Oct 2017: ED officer Rajeshwar Singh, who probed 2G spectrum and is investigating the Aircel-Maxis case, moves Supreme Court, says he’s being targeted with “frivolous anonymous complaints” for going after the powerful in these cases.
Nov 1, 2017: Bench of Justices J Chelameswar and S Abdul Nazeer restrains government from taking any action against him on the basis of these complaints. The court also issues notice to CBI and ED.
June 4, 2018: Delhi resident Rajneesh Kapur files PIL in SC seeking probe against Singh for alleged disproportionate assets.