PMLA case: SC seeks ED's reply on TN minister Senthil Balaji's plea against HC order
DECCAN CHRONICLE | DC Correspondent
New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday sought response from the Enforcement Directorate (ED) on the pleas of Tamil Nadu Minister V Senthil Balaji and his wife Megala challenging the July 14 order of the Madras High Court upholding his arrest by the probe agency in a money laundering case.
A bench of Justices A S Bopanna and M M Sundresh issued a notice to the ED on the pleas and posted the matter for hearing on July 26.
The minister and his wife have filed two separate petitions in the top court challenging the high court order.
Besides upholding the arrest of the minister, the high court had held as valid his subsequent remand in judicial custody by a sessions court in the money laundering case arising out of the alleged cash-for-jobs scam in the state's transport department when he was the transport minister.
He continues to be a minister without portfolio in the Tamil Nadu cabinet.
During the hearing in the apex court, senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the petitioners, referred to the top court's 2022 judgement in the Vijay Madanlal Choudhary case and said it had held that ED officers are not "police officers".
In the Vijay Madanlal Choudhary verdict, the apex court had upheld the ED's powers relating to arrest, attachment of property involved in money laundering, search and seizure under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).
It had said authorities under the 2002 Act are "not police officers as such" and the Enforcement Case Information Report (ECIR) cannot be equated with an FIR under the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC).
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the ED, told the bench on Friday that agency officers are entitled to make arrest.
"There can't be a situation where I (ED) arrest someone only to be sent to the judicial custody because the very purpose of arrest is for the purpose of investigation," he said.
The bench said, "What we will do is, you accept notice. We will fix a date and hear the matter."
Mehta urged the court to fix the matter for hearing on an early date.
"Kindly have it at the earliest because it is our case that the accused has taken the system on a joy ride," he said.
The bench posted the matter for hearing on July 26.
Justice C V Karthikeyan, who was named as a third judge by the high court to hear the habeas corpus petition of Senthil Balaji's wife, following a split verdict delivered by a division bench, had concurred with the conclusions arrived at by Justice D Bharatha Chakravarthy. Justice Chakravarthy had upheld Balaji's arrest.
The third judge held that the accused had no right to frustrate the investigation.
Justice Karthikeyan had directed the registry to place the matter before Chief Justice S V Gangapurwala to refer it to the same division bench to determine the date on which the ED could take the custody of Senthil Balaji, who has undergone a coronary bypass surgery, and to shift him from the hospital.
Balaji was shifted to the Puzhal Central Prison in Chennai from a private hospital on Monday.
In his order, Justice Karthikeyan had said, according to the complainant, he had given Rs 2.40 lakh (for securing a job in a state-run transport corporation). This was the specific offence of bribery for which an FIR was filed, after which the ED had registered the Enforcement Case Information Report (the ED's version of FIR).
Subsequently, Balaji, the transport minister in a previous AIADMK government, was arrested by the ED.