20 Nov 2023 10:38 AM GMT
The Supreme Court on Monday (November 20) issued notice in a plea by Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) MP Sanjay Singh, challenging his arrest and remand on charges of money laundering over alleged irregularities in the framing and implementation of a now-scrapped liquor policy in Delhi. Singh has been in custody since last month, when he was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate (ED). A bench...
The Supreme Court on Monday (November 20) issued notice in a plea by Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) MP Sanjay Singh, challenging his arrest and remand on charges of money laundering over alleged irregularities in the framing and implementation of a now-scrapped liquor policy in Delhi. Singh has been in custody since last month, when he was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate (ED).
A bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and SVN Bhatti was hearing Singh’s plea against a Delhi High Court order refusing to set aside his arrest.
Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for the embattled legislator, questioned Singh's arrest by the Enforcement Directorate, arguing that it was void ab initio. Section 19, which lays down the requirements for a valid and lawful arrest under the anti-money laundering legislation, provides for inbuilt safeguards against the arbitrary use of the power, he argued. These include the mandate to record reasons in writing for the belief regarding the involvement of the person in an offence of money laundering and to inform the person being arrested of the grounds of their arrest.
"But, as per the finding of the high court, Singh was given grounds of arrest running into six pages," Justice Khanna pointed out.
The senior counsel, however, submitted that it was a "totally different case". The statutory test of four words in Section 19 has not been fulfilled here, Singhvi contended, before adding, "Please note these four phrases: 'Reason to believe', 'basis of material', 'guilty', and 'may arrest'. A degree of guilt is required..."
"The language of Section 19 is somewhat ambiguous. Guilt cannot be pronounced at that stage," Justice Khanna countered. Although the bench agreed to issue notice, the judge advised the legislator to file an application for regular bail, saying, "There are two aspects: I do not think an application for bail will deprive him of the right to come to the Supreme Court if there is a violation of Section 19 of the PMLA or Section 167(2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure. Also, my understanding is that as far as Section 167(2) is concerned, the jurisdiction is narrower. Bail jurisdiction is much broader."
"Bail is not the only appropriate remedy at this stage," Singhvi insisted.
Ultimately, the bench pronounced -
"Issue notice returnable in the week commencing December 11. Notice will be served by all modes including dasti. It will in the meantime be open to the petitioner to file an application for regular bail, if so advised. If any application for regular bail is filed, the same would be considered on its own merits, without being impugned judgment which is sub judice before this court."
The origin of the controversy is the excise policy framed by the Government of the National Capital of Delhi to boost revenue and reform liquor trade in 2021, which was later withdrawn after allegations of irregularities in implementation were made and Lieutenant-Governor Vinay Kumar Saxena ordered a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation into the policy. This policy – which sought to completely privatise liquor trade in the national capital – was used to grant undue advantage to private entities at the cost of the public exchequer and smacked of corruption, the Enforcement Directorate and the Central Bureau of Investigation have claimed. They have alleged that there was a coordinated conspiracy to provide extraordinary profit margins to wholesalers, led by individuals including Vijay Nair acting on behalf of Manish Sisodia, former deputy chief minister of Delhi and a prominent leader of the Aam Aadmi Party. The investigations are currently underway and have led to the arrest of Sisodia and others.
Sanjay Singh, currently in judicial custody, was arrested by the ED on October 4 following searches at his residence in Delhi. The central agency alleges that an employee of businessman Dinesh Arora delivered Rs. 2 crores to Singh’s house on two occasions. Singh’s arrest followed accusations made by Arora, who later turned approver in both the ED and CBI cases.
Last month, the Delhi High Court rejected his petition challenging his arrest and remand in connection with the money laundering case linked to the liquor policy scam. Despite Singh’s claim that the case was politically motivated, Justice Swarana Kanta Sharma emphasised that court cannot interfere with the work of the Enforcement Directorate, a premier investigative agency, in the absence of substantial evidence supporting such allegations. Noting that the investigation was incomplete, the single judge also observed that the petition was premature.
“Courts are best left untouched by such influences and are only bound by the oath,” stated Justice Sharma. The court asserted that Singh, despite being a political figure, should be treated on par with any other accused in a criminal case. It highlighted that while every individual has the right to protect their public image, this right should not impede the state’s right to investigate a crime.
Sanjay Singh v. Union of India & Anr. | Special Leave Petition (Criminal) No. 14510 of 2023
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