20 Nov 2023 11:30 AM GMT
The Bombay High Court recently discharged former Chief Commissioner of Income Tax Anil Goel from a corruption case for allegedly occupying a flat without paying rent while being posted in Kerala.Justice Bharati Dangre observed that Goel did not have existing official dealing with the firm from which he allegedly obtained undue benefits, rejecting the prosecution’s argument that if a...
The Bombay High Court recently discharged former Chief Commissioner of Income Tax Anil Goel from a corruption case for allegedly occupying a flat without paying rent while being posted in Kerala.
Justice Bharati Dangre observed that Goel did not have existing official dealing with the firm from which he allegedly obtained undue benefits, rejecting the prosecution’s argument that if a business connection is made in future, offence under Section 11 (public servant obtaining undue advantage from person concerned in official dealings) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 is made out.
Section 11 of the Act states that if a public servant accepts, obtains, agrees to accept, or attempts to obtain a ‘valuable thing’ without any payment or with inadequate payment from a person involved or likely to be involved with the public servant's official functions, the public servant can be punished with imprisonment ranging from six months to five years, along with a fine.
“In absence of any material to show that there was any business transacted or about to be transacted by him in respect of M/s Heera Builders as an ‘Assessee’ and as Mr. Shirsat (counsel for the centre) would submit sometimes in future, M/s Heera Constructions would have been subjected to assessment or even if he was assessee, he may have some dealing in future, in my considered opinion, is an incomprehensible argument, as in Thiruvananthapuram, there may be large number of assessees and it cannot be speculated that there is going to be a future transaction or business connect with either of them”, the court observed.
The Central Bureau of Investigation's Anti-Corruption Bureau in Cochin filed the case under Sections 7, 12, and 13 of the Prevention of Corruption Act against other accused. The FIR dated December 18, 2015 initially excluded Goel. However, in 2019, the CBI filed a supplementary charge-sheet accusing Goel of offence under section 11 of the Act on July 31, 2019.
Goel was accused of occupying a flat leased by M/s Heera Constructions without paying rent, during his tenure from January 01, 2014 to December 31, 2015 thereby abusing his official position as Chief Commissioner of Income Tax. It was alleged that rent of Rs. 4,40,000/- was paid by M/s Heera Constructions Pvt. Ltd. to the owner of the apartment.
The CBI claimed that, as M/s Heera Constructions fell within the assessment jurisdiction of Goel as CCIT, staying in the flat without rent payment constituted an offense under Section 11 of the Act.
Goel was granted bail by the Special CBI Court on September 19, 2022. Goel sought discharge under Section 227 of the CrPC, contending that he bore all charges for the maintenance of the flat during his stay, including phone bills, electricity bills, and society maintenance charges amounting to Rs.50,000/-, and the offense under Section 11 could not be made out.
The Special CBI Court rejected the discharge application on February 13, 2023. Thus, Goel filed the present revision application before the Bombay High Court challenging the Special Court’s order.
The question before the court was whether, from the charge-sheet, it was evident that Goel had obtained a ‘valuable thing’ connected to his official functions.
Senior Advocate Aabad Ponda for Goel submitted that there was no reference in the chargesheet about reciprocal benefits to the flat owner or M/s Heera Builders in official dealings. He argued that Goel never benefitted in any manner or unjustly enriched himself.
Advocate Shriram Shirsat for CBI pointed to oral evidence regarding the non-payment of rent by Goel and the fact that he did not vacate the premises despite various requests by the assessee-firm. He highlighted the statement of the Managing Director of M/s Heera Builders, who stated that Goel did not vacate the flat nor did he pay any rent during his stay. According to Shirsat, the statement of the MD indicated that the assessee-firm was under the threat of harassment by the Income Tax authorities if there was insistence on Goel vacating the flat.
The court emphasized that the ‘valuable thing’ must have a connection with the public servant's official functions. The charge-sheet, according to the court, lacked material to show any official dealings between Goel and M/s Heera Builders or the flat owner that could establish a connection to his duties.
The court observed that Goel had borne all necessary expenses for the flat, including maintenance, electricity, and society charges. The court noted that Goel was unaware of the ownership details when he was shown the flat by his sub-ordinate when he came to Thiruvananthapuram as the CCIT. It questioned the absence of any notice or demand for rent and underscored that the service charge was borne by Goel. The court emphasized that no communication was sent to Goel to vacate the flat, raising doubts about his knowledge regarding rent payment requirements.
Setting aside the Special CBI Court's order, the High Court discharged Goel, allowing his Criminal Revision Application.
Case no. – Criminal Revision Application No. 183 of 2023
Case Title – Anil Goel v. Union of India & Anr.
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