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Supreme Court Asks Ghaziabad Court To Defer Proceedings In PMLA Case Against Journalist Rana Ayyub

Awstika Das
25 Jan 2023 7:57 AM GMT
Supreme Court Asks Ghaziabad Court To Defer Proceedings In PMLA Case Against Journalist Rana Ayyub

The Supreme Court on Wednesday requested the Special PMLA Court at Ghaziabad to adjourn the proceedings on January 27 in the case against journalist Rana Ayyub over alleged FCRA violations in raising public funds for COVID relief to a date after January 31.

"List on January 31. In the meantime Ghaziabad Special Court, Corruption, CBI-1 is requested to adjourn the proceedings of Special Trial 3/2021 fixed for January 27 to a date after January 31st", the Court ordered in the petition filed by Ayyub challenging the summons issued by the Ghaziabad court. As per the summons, she was directed to appear before the Ghaziabad court on January 27.

Clarifying that the direction is not a reflection on the merits of the matter, the bench comprising Justices Krishna Murari and V Ramasubramanian stated that the order was passed as it could not complete the hearing today.

At the outset, the bench asked Ayyub's counsel Advocate Vrinda Grover why the Supreme Court was directly approached under Article 32 of the Constitution bypassing the High Court.

Grover submitted that she is raising a jurisdictional issue that the Ghaziabad court has no jurisdiction to hear the matter. The prosecution complaint ought to have been filed in Mumbai, where the offence is alleged to have taken place. The alleged proceeds of the crime are at a bank account in Navi Mumbai and no part of the offence took place in UP. She pointed out that Ayyub was never arrested during the investigation and completely cooperated with it.

"Can this question not be decided by the jurisdictional High Court? Is HC powerless?", the bench asked Grover.

The counsel then stated that there is a threat to Ayyub's life and liberty if she is forced to appear in Ghaziabad court. "The petitioner's liberty is at stake here. I have never been arrested. The Hindu IT cell has tweeted, send her to Ghaziabad jail for 7 days, "aur hum dekhenge". Can ED be allowed to drag her to any court in the country, especially where my safety would be jeopardised?", she urged.

Opposing the plea, Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Enforcement Directorate, said that Ayyub can seek regular remedies.

"Every citizen is equal in eyes of law. File anticipatory bail application. All citizens are equal", SG Mehta said.

"Not in UP", Grover retorted.

Taking objection to this remark, SG said, "Aspersion are being cast on the entire state".

"We will put it up on Monday. Instead of passing interim orders, we will request concerned court to postpone the hearing", Justice Murari said.

"I cannot come in the way, but I will show the seriousness", SG replied.

Ayyub came under the scanner of the ED for allegedly receiving overseas donations without registration under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010. The investigation was initiated on the strength of a first information report registered in September 2021 by the Indirapuram Police Station in Ghaziabad under various sections of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, Information Technology Amendment Act, 2008, and Black Money (Undisclosed Foreign Income and Assets) and Imposition of Tax Act, 2015.

What was of interest to the law enforcement agency was a series of three campaigns launched, starting from 2020, by the journalist on an online crowdfunding platform called Ketto to raise funds for slum-dwellers and farmers, relief work in Assam, Bihar, and Maharashtra, and for people impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic in India.

In February, in the course of the investigation, bank balances in the accounts of Ayyub amounting to around Rs 1.77 crore, including a fixed deposit of Rs 50 lakh were attached by means of provisional attachment order. In March, the award-winning journalist was stopped by immigration officials at the Mumbai airport from taking a flight to London, on the basis of a ‘Look out Circular’ issued against her by the ED for allegedly failing to comply with their summons. The Delhi High Court, in April, quashed the circular, allowing Ayyub to travel abroad, and in August, restrained the federal agency from proceeding further with the provisional attachment of her properties in connection with the money laundering probe.

In October, the Enforcement Directorate concluded the investigation. “The investigation has established that Rana Ayyub had launched the fundraising campaigns with the sole intention to cheat the general public and acquired proceeds of crime in form of fixed deposits and balances in bank accounts projecting them as untainted,” the ED claimed in a statement on October 13, one day after it filed the prosecution complaint against Ayyub before a special PMLA court in Ghaziabad under Section 45 read with Section 44 of the anti-money laundering act. On November 29, the special court took cognizance of the prosecution complaint and summoned Ayyub.

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