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Withdraw lookout, say sorry to Amnesty India chief Aakar Patel, court tells CBI chief

Aakar Patel was due to travel to the US from the Bangalore International Airport on Wednesday and he was stopped by the immigration authorities on the ground. He was informed that an LOC was issued against him in connection with a case against Amnesty India in 2019 when he had headed the organisation.

Former Amnesty International India head Aakar Patel (File)

A Delhi court has allowed rights activist and Chair of Amnesty International India Board Aakar Patel to travel to the United States and asked the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to withdraw a lookout circular (LOC) issued against him. Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Pawan Kumar granted relief to Patel who will be allowed to travel to various US universities to deliver lectures.

The court also asked the CBI director to issue a written apology to Patel acknowledging the lapse on part of his subordinate and said that this will go a long way in not only healing the wounds of the applicant but also upholding the trust of the public in the premier institution.

Patel was due to travel to the US from the Bangalore International Airport on Wednesday and he was stopped by the immigration authorities on the ground. He was informed that an LOC was issued against him in connection with a case against Amnesty India in 2019 when he had headed the organisation.

Patel’s lawyer Tanveer Ahmed Mir told the magistrate that “citizens rights cannot be railroaded by law enforcement agency” and that the best mechanism is to make the investigating officer (IO) Himanshu Bahuguna, who promulgates the LOC to “pay the money that I have lost directly from his pocket.”

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“Why would I leave India and do what I chose to do. What the IO has done is put me to a prejudice of Rs 3,80,000 (cost of Patel’s flight tickets). It is time that we send a suitable reply to law enforcement agencies and society. If he is not able to sustain this exercise, the IO pays an amount of Rs 3,80,000 that is the least he owes me,” Mir told the court.

Mir also suggested that the amount may be given to causes like the Delhi Police widows fund or the Delhi High Court mediation centre while stressing “on the first principle, I should be compensated in letter and spirit”.

Mir told the court that the issuance of the LOC was in blatant violation of procedure. “Let him (investigating officer) demonstrate from his case diary, what is the attempt till date, whereby any propensity or feeling, speculated, hallucination or otherwise, that had come with the agency that I had not joined the investigation? Now for the IO to say that we opened the LOC against him in order to thwart any attempt, so he doesn’t know whether there will ever be an attempt,” Mir told the court.

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Apprising the court of the CBI investigation, Mir said that the agency filed the final report without sanction. “Once he filed a chargesheet, not asking me to come forward and appear means that he is not concerned with me and leaves it to your honour. He never needed my custody,” Mir told the court.

“The fundamental rights guaranteed are not to be trampled down, railroaded with a complete sense of impunity. What they enjoy is their understanding and their fascination that there will be no consequences,” Mir added.

The CBI prosecutor told the court that initially Patel was not named in the FIR but after further investigation, his role came into the picture following which a chargesheet was filed against him.

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The IO told the court that the CBI filed the chargesheet on December 31 without the sanction from the home ministry. The LOC was issued since he was a flight risk being an influential person.

The court asked the IO how an LOC is issued to which the officer began explaining the procedure of issuing the LOC against economic offenders. The court asked the IO, “does this case fall under that category? If he was a flight risk why was he not arrested. He could have fled in those two years.”

The IO told the court: “It was a collective decision taken.” The court asked the IO for the detailed reasons for issuing the LOC to which the IO replied that the agency had to fill a performa and there was no need to communicate the detailed reasons to the accused.

Mir told the court that as per procedure, the IO had to discuss with the superior officers why this was an exceptional case and record the same in his case diary.

“How is the departure of Aakar Patel, who was being invited by a University… be detrimental to the security of the country? Because Aakar Patel will go to America and President Biden will not talk to PM Modi. That is not his case,” Mir submitted.

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He told the court that the CBI made an egregious error by filing the chargesheet without obtaining sanction and not following proper procedure while issuing the LOC.

“Today also they have burdened the court unnecessarily with the chargesheet. This is like putting a cart in front of the horse… Say the sanctioning authority will not provide me the sanction, will I be stopped at the airport for years? All answers given by them are tantamously illegal. They are in breach of facts, in breach of investigation, every judgement passed by the Delhi High Court. They have admitted that we have no reason on record to initiate the LOC,” Mir told the court.

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The CBI prosecutor told the court that this offence involved Rs 26 crore and since he was an economic offender, he must not be allowed to leave the country. “We keep saying that we don’t arrest economic offenders in this country. We are not asking for his arrest, we are simply saying he must not leave the country,” the prosecutor submitted.

First published on: 07-04-2022 at 12:45:29 pm
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