“Those in public life are expected to be open to probity”, said the Delhi High Court on Monday as it denied any relief to Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, his wife and son seeking quashing of cases of money laundering registered against them by the Enforcement Directorate.
The high court went on to add that, “Endeavours to stall investigation into their affairs by the law enforcement agencies, particularly on technical grounds, have the potency of giving the impression that there is something to hide”.
In his 101-page judgement, Justice R K Gauba also junked the petitions of two other co-accused Chunni Lal and businessman Picheswar Gadde.
83-year-old Virbhadra Singh, his spouse Pratibha Singh and their son Vikramaditya Singh along with commission agent Chunni Lal and businessman Gadde had come to high court alleging that the ED has summoned them in cases registered in the year 2015 on false allegations.
Challenging the summons issued by the ED last year asking them to join investigation, they had contended that there cannot be an investigation undertaken under the PMLA Act without there being an order of a court competent to try such case authorizing such investigation.
The court was, however, of the view that, “There is no requirement in law that an officer empowered by PMLA may not take up investigation of a PMLA offence or may not arrest any person as permitted by its provisions without obtaining authorization from the court. Such inhibitions cannot be read into the law by the court.”
Since the petitions largely centered around the argument that investigation against them has been actuated by political motives, Justice Gauba wrote, “The prime argument of the petitioners is of political vendetta. This argument is not supported by any material. These proceedings are not the appropriate forum for the court to examine such plea which, in the interest of the petitioners themselves, must be left for it to be pressed, if they were so advised and if they have material to substantiate the same, at some appropriate stage in future.
“Suffice it to observe in this context, and at this stage, that those in public life are expected to be open to probity. Higher the position in life (or polity), higher the obligation (moral, if not legal) to be accountable. Endeavours to stall investigation into their affairs by the law enforcement agencies, particularly on technical grounds, have the potency of giving the impression that there is something to hide”.
The ED had in September 2015 lodged the case against the chief minister and others under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) after taking cognisance of a criminal complaint filed by the CBI.
Earlier this year, the high court had dismissed Singh’s petition and that of his wife seeking quashing of disproportionate assets case registered by the CBI.
The agency is probing allegations against Singh and his family members of having amassed wealth of Rs. 6.1 crore disproportionate to his known sources of income between 2009 and 2011 when he was the Union minister of steel.
It has also attached assets worth about Rs. 14 crore in the case under the PMLA.
The petitions were moved after the ED denied extension of time for compliance with the summons on the ground that the legislative assembly of the State of Himachal Pradesh was in session till April 6, 2016 in spite of which, they were being summoned for March 17, 2016.
Read the Judgment Here