'Basically Arrested Illegally, For No Reason': Mumbai Court Tears Into ED Probe Against Sanjay Raut
The Enforcement Directorate "illegally" arrested MP Sanjay Raut, one of the closest allies of former Chief Minister of Maharashtra Uddhav Thackeray, in the Patra Chawl money laundering case, the Special PMLA court said in its detailed order granting him bail.
Special Judge MG Deshpande minced no words to hold that Pravin Raut was arrested for a civil dispute while Sanjay Raut was arrested for "no reason." "This truth is glaring," he said.
Significantly the bench held that civil litigation was the reason behind their arrest which was not a predicate offence.
"Simply labelling pure civil disputes with 'money laundering' or 'an economic offence' itself cannot automatically acquire such status and ultimately drag an innocent person in a miserable situation in the guise of arrest under section 19 and stringent twin conditions of section 45(1)(i)(ii) of PMLA. The Court has to do what is right irrespective of who is before it," the judge added.
ED's case is that Pravin Raut was the Director of a company called Guru Ashish Constructions Pvt. Ltd (GACPL), that was responsible for illegally selling the free components of the Patra Chawl redevelopment project in Goregaon even as hundreds of residents continue to wait for a home. The ED alleged that Sanjay Raut through his "proxy" Pravin received Rs. 3.27 crore as proceeds of crime and laundered it.
Raut was arrested on July 31, 2022 and accused of committing offences under section 3 read with section 2(1)(u) of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act 2002 (PMLA).
In his conclusion, Special Judge MG Deshpande held their arrest as illegal for the ED's failure to arrest HDIL builders Sarang and Rakesh Wadhwan, who were the prime accused in the case. As also MHADA officials who may be involved.
"I hold that both accused are basically arrested illegally. Both of them are entitled to parity in view of the disparity made by the ED in not arresting the main accused persons Rakesh and Sarang, their HDIL, MHADA and government officials responsible for misdeeds of the Wadhawans at the relevant time."
The judge highlighted the changing stand of the ED wherein the agency had initially alleged that the Wadhawans and Pravin Raut was the prime accused and later attributed the "prime accused" role to Raut.
The court said that an innocent person couldn't be dragged into a dispute in the name of money laundering and held that the twin conditions for grant of bail were not applicable in their case.
The judge found MHADA's conduct suspicious right from beginning as if filed an FIR in 2018 regarding instances from 2006 – 2013 and observed that yet the ED did not make its staff and accused.
"MHADA's attitude as such lodging FIR No.22 of 2018 on one fine morning can neither throw dust in the eyes of the Court nor can brush off and wash out long civil litigations which were even acknowledged by the Hon'ble High Court. Hence, this Court cannot join its voice in the chorus of ED and MHADA."
The court noted that the Wadhwan's had accepted their role and misdeeds in affidavits but have been left "scott free" by ED. "All this clearly indicates disparity, pick and choose attitude of the ED and the Court cannot put premium on the same but legally bound to make parity."
Finally the judge said that if it still accepted the contention of ED and MHADA and rejected bail, it would amount to putting a putting premium on such pick and choose strategies of the Agency. "Certainly in that event any common man, innocent and honest people, will loose faith and confidence which they have reposed in the judicial system as a temple of justice. Hence, judicial principles which guide the Court cannot be ignored."
While the judge held that object of PMLA to be laudable, it was the court's duty to safeguard it. "Equally the court is protector of rights of accused and innocent persons who are illegally arrested. The Court cannot become predator of such valuable rights of the accused, but is duty bound to be a protector thereof as laid down by the Hon'ble Supreme Court. If the Court ignores this aspect, where the people will go for justice?"
Soon after the order was pronounced the ED approached the Bombay High Court bench of Justice Bharati Dangre who agreed to hear their appeal tomorrow but refused to stay the bail order.