Updated: May 18, 2022 7:32:13 am
In a relief to TMC Lok Sabha MP Abhishek Banerjee, the Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the Enforcement Directorate (ED), to question Banerjee and his wife in Kolkata, and not in Delhi.
The ED wants to question them in connection with a case of money laundering arising out of a coal scam.
“It shall be open to the Directorate of Enforcement to require attendance of the petitioners in its office at Kolkata by giving at least 24 hours’ notice,” a bench of Justices U U Lalit, S Ravindra Bhat and Sudanshu Dhulia ordered.
The bench stayed the “effect and operation” of Delhi High Court’s order, which had refused to quash the summons issued to them to appear before the agency in Delhi.
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The bench, however, imposed conditions on the state to provide police security for the interrogators and to ensure that there is no obstruction or interference in the interrogation.
The court ordered that notices will be issued to the Kolkata Police Commissioner, and state Chief Secretary so that “adequate police protection is afforded to the persons seeking to examine or interrogate the petitioners”.
Appearing for the State, Advocate Suhaan Mukerji, “assured” the court that “complete assistance shall be rendered by the State machinery so that effective interrogation or examination can be undertaken”.
Additional Solicitor General S V Raju, who appeared for ED, opposed the suggestion to question the duo in Kolkata. “In a case like this, the offence has taken place in the territory of Delhi, investigation is in Delhi, his address in Delhi, he is very influential — related to the highest machinery to the State,” Raju said.
Banerjee is the nephew of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
But the state counsel “further assured” the court that “apprehension” expressed by Raju — “that there may be interference or obstruction in the examination or interrogation — is completely misplaced and every care shall be taken by the State machinery”.
The court also took on record Mukerji’s word that “no coercive action of any kind shall be initiated by police or any state machinery either…”
It allowed the agency to approach the vacation bench in case of any obstruction or interference.
Turning down ED’s prayer to interrogate Banerjee in Delhi, the court said if it had named them as accused, it would have allowed this but the agency has not done so till now.
According to the agency, Raju said, “he is a potential accused. It’s a case of illegal mining worth thousands of crores; Rs 168 crore has been siphoned off and brought to Delhi…. We have evidence against him. His name has surfaced.”
Justice Lalit said: “We are putting the matter in perspective, when you summon for interrogation you have nothing against that person or putting the man in the slot as an accused. It is a general interrogation — it can be as a witness and after interrogation can provide such information that he becomes an accused,” remarked. “As an accused you can procure custody, but when the man is not in the capacity of an accused, can you insist on calling them to your office?”
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