Special Judge Convicts Wildlife Offenders For Money Laundering: Marks The First-Ever Conviction In Delhi Under PMLA [Read Judgment]
Special CBI Judge Santosh Snehi Mann has convicted two persons of committed an offence under sections 3 and 4 of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act. This case marks the first ever conviction under the aforementioned anti-money laundering legislation in the state of Delhi.
In the present case, the three accused persons were apprehended by a joint team of the Delhi Police Crime Branch, Maharashtra Forest Department and the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, on the basis of information received on movement of wildlife offenders. After search and seizure, a sack containing uncured trophies of tiger parts, tiger nails and total cash worth Rs. 52,60,000 were recovered from the accused persons.
Pursuant to this, a complaint was filed against the three accused persons for offences under sections 39, 44, 49B and 51 of Wildlife Protection Act. Since, these offences also fall in the category of Scheduled Offences under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, a complaint was also registered at the Delhi Zonal Office of Enforcement Director. After recording the statements under section 50 of PMLA, the accused persons were charged with sections 3 and 4 of the said Act.
The counsel for ED, Nitesh Rana, had argued that since the said offences fall in the category of Scheduled Offences under PMLA, the case was rightly investigated by the ED. Moreover, since the accused persons have failed to counter the presumption against them by virtue of section 24 of the Act, the recovered properties should be handed over to the Central Government.
The defence, on the other hand, argued that the accused persons have been falsely implicated, there are no independent witnesses in the case, and no investigation has been done with respect to recovery old tiger parts.
The court while examining the evidence opined that in proving the criminal activity under Wildlife Protection Act, there's no need to examine the informer. Moreover, Wildlife Crime Investigation Handbook prohibits the examination of informer as a witness in court to protect his identity. Therefore, the claim of the defence regarding non-examination of the informer was refuted by the court.
The court also opined that physical production of the wildlife contraband during trial is not essential to prove the recovery.
It was also accepted by the court that the monies recovered from the custody of the accused persons were the proceeds of crime under PMLA. The court, while convicting two of three accused persons under section 3 of PMLA, also ordered the recovered monies to be confiscated by the central government under sections 8(5) and 8(7) of the aforementioned anti-money laundering legislation