THE DELHI High Court on Wednesday granted bail to Bhushan Steel’s former promoter Neeraj Singal even as the Supreme Court agreed to hear the probe agency’s appeal against the release order on Thursday.
Singal, who is in Tihar Jail, was arrested in August last year for allegedly siphoning off more than Rs 2,000 crore from bank loans using more than 80 associate companies. He also turned down investigators’ request to stay the operation of its order.
Singal was the first person to be arrested by the Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO) after the agency was granted this power in August last year.
“Justification for the continued incarceration of the petitioner (Singal) even beyond 20 days, at this stage, for the purpose of investigation, has not been made out,” a High Court bench of Justices S Muralidhar and Vinod Goel observed.
The court granted him interim bail on furnishing of a personal bond of Rs 5 lakh, with two sureties of Rs 2 lakh each.
A Supreme Court bench of Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud, meanwhile, agreed that the SFIO’s plea will be heard on Thursday morning by a bench presided over by Justice Khanwilkar.
Appearing for the Central government, Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Tushar Mehta and Maninder Singh submitted before the CJI-led bench that the probe against Singal is at a “very advanced stage” and releasing him now is “likely to compromise the investigation” and sought a stay on the bail granted to him by Delhi High Court.
Calling it a “very, very critical stage” for the probe, Mehta said that Rs 2,500 crore was only the tip of the iceberg and the actual scam was likely to run into Rs 10,000 crores. “Public money has been converted into private property…huge fraud with the banks,” the ASG said.
The CJI initially observed that the court would ask the accused to surrender his passport and report daily at the police station. But Mehta opposed this vehemently and said that Singal had floated “86 bogus companies in the name of his employees who were coming forward to give evidence” and that “none of them will be available if he comes out”.
“We don’t want another Mallya,” the ASG said.
Appearing for the accused, senior advocates Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Aryama Sundaram said the probe against him was started in May 2016 and wondered what was the reason for the urgency now.
The High Court was earlier informed by Singal’s counsels, Pramod Kumar Dubey and Arshdeep Singh, that despite the HC direction the trial court was not accepting the bail order since the address in the sureties was that of Singal’s mother. “Any kind of delay in implementing the order of this court will not be countenanced,” the court observed, and directed its Registrar General to “immediately communicate” to the special court to implement the bail order “without any delay”.
The HC has also ordered that Singal will not meet any of the witnesses whose statements may have been recorded by SFIO and will not in any manner seek to tamper with the course of investigation, or evidence gathered by the agency.
While clarifying that the interim bail will continue until an investigation report is filed in the special court, the HC directed the accused not to leave the country without prior intimation of the court concerned.