SUMAN K SHRIVASTAVA
Ranchi, Oct 13: The Jharkhand High Court today rejected Chief Minister Hemant Soren’s petition filed to challenge the summons issued by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to probe the multi-crore land scam in Ranchi.
During the hearing held in a hybrid mode, senior advocates P Chidambaram and Kapil Sibal, appearing for Soren, vehemently pleaded to quash the summons, saying it was politically motivated.
Sibal told the court that no case of any kind was registered against the CM. “It is not clear whether the CM was summoned as an accused or a witness. In such a situation, it is not appropriate for the ED to summon him,” he argued.
Soren’s counsel said that he had also challenged Section 50 of the PMLA Act under which the statements recorded by the officers of the Enforcement Directorate during the investigation in judicial proceedings, violate Article 20 of the Constitution.
Additional Solicitor General SV Raju, who argued on behalf of the ED online, stated that the chief minister had filed the writ petition after he jumped the deadline set by the ED to interrogate him. “So, it had already turned infructuous,” he argued. “Moreover, the CM did not appear on any summons of the ED. In such a situation, there is no justification for him to challenge the summons,” Raju added.
The ED counsel said that Soren has challenged Sections 50 and 60 of the PMLA Act, which has been decided by the Supreme Court in the case of Vijay Madan Lal Chaudhary. “Under this, the agency can issue summons and record statements. In such a situation, the High Court cannot give any order in this matter,” he added.
Incidentally, there was a hot exchange of arguments and counter-arguments between Sibal and Raju prompting the court to placate them, saying both of them happened to be senior and learned advocates.
After hearing the arguments from both sides, a division bench of Chief Justice Sanjaya Kumar Mishra and Justice Ananda Sen finally rejected the petition of CM Hemant Soren dictating a small order in the courtroom itself.
Notably, Soren has ignored five ED summons so far. Soren skipped the first summons on August 14 and sent a letter to ED asking it to withdraw the summons or he will be forced to take legal action against the agency.
But the ED again issued a summon against Soren asking him to appear before it on August 24. Soren skipped it again and sent a letter to ED saying that he had filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court challenging the summons issued to him, but he was summoned again by ED for the third time.
The Supreme Court, on September 18, asked Soren to approach the high court in this regard. The ED again summoned him on September 23 and later on October 4.
Now, all eyes are on the ED bosses, who are otherwise busy investigating the liquor scam in New Delhi. The ED did not issue any fresh summons after October 4. The ED officials are tight-lipped on whether they will wait for the Supreme Court’s final order on the summons in case the chief minister challenges the high court’s Friday order or seek a warrant from the ED court to secure his presence.
The ED is probing two major cases of money laundering in Jharkhand. The first case is related to illegal mining in Sahibganj in which the CM was questioned on November 17 last year. While, the second case is related to an alleged land scam in the state capital in which 13 people, including IAS officer Chhavi Ranjan and two businessmen, Amit Agarwal of Kolkata and Bishnu Agarwal, who own shopping malls in Ranchi, have already been arrested.
What is SC order on Section 50 of the PMLA Act challenged by Hemant Soren?
The SC verdict, in Vijay Madan Lal Chaudhary case, upheld Section 50 of PMLA which empowers ED officials to record statements on oath from any person. This is admissible in court, unlike statements or confessions made to the police. The SC also said that the ED need not supply a copy of the Enforcement Case Information Report (ECIR) to an arrested person. This gives penal powers to the ED.
The Apex Court on Sections 17 and 18 of PMLA, relating to search and seizure, said that the power of search and seizure under Section 17 of the 2002 Act, is a special self-contained provision and is different from the general provisions in the 1973 Code. In view of the inbuilt safeguards and stringent stipulations to be adhered to by the Authorities under the 2002 Act, it ought to be regarded as a reasonable provision having a nexus with the purposes and objects sought to be achieved by the 2002 Act. It is certainly not an arbitrary power at all.
ED power of arrest under Section 19 of PMLA: The SC said the safeguards before effecting arrest, as contained in Section 19 of the 2002 Act, are equally stringent and of a higher standard. Those safeguards ensure that the authorized officers do not act arbitrarily, but make them accountable for their judgment about the necessity to arrest any person as being involved in the commission of the offense of money-laundering even before filing of the complaint.