DC Edit | Raut case exposes gross abuse of powers by ED

Update: 2022-11-11 18:40 GMT
Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray) leader Sanjay Raut leaves after being produced at a court, in Mumbai, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022. Raut was on Wednesday granted bail in a money laundering case linked to alleged irregularities in the redevelopment of 'Patra Chawl'. (Photo: PTI)

The order of the special judge for cases charged under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) granting bail to Shiv Sena leader and Rajya Sabha member Sanjay Raut reflects one more instance of how the Enforcement Directorate (ED) has reduced itself from being a professional agency to becoming a tool in the hands of the powers that be.

Mr Raut was arrested in the middle of the night on August 1 after a day’s raids at his home in connection with a Rs 1,034-crore money laundering case linked to a construction work. Granting the bail, the special court said the arrest was “without reason and a prima facie indication of a witch-hunt”. Labelling pure civil disputes as money laundering or an economic offence cannot automatically give it such a status, the court reminded the agency. It pointed out the pick-and-choose policy of the federal agency in arresting people and also the contradictory stands it took on the source of the “proceeds of the crime”. Curtailing people’s liberty is an exceptional power and must be used sparingly, the court has reminded the agency.

The court was baring the modus operandi the ED has been employing across the country. There are laws in our country to stop corruption and to nab those who indulge in them. The Indian Penal Code and the Prevention of Corruption Act in states are primarily meant for the purpose. The ED should come into the picture only when there is a predicate offence and there are proceeds of crime involving them; prevention of corruption is not its job.

The ED is endowed with vast powers most other investigating agencies do not enjoy. A statement an accused gives an officer above the rank of an assistant director is admissible as evidence in the court, and in certain cases, the burden of proof is on the accused. The lawmakers vested the agencies with such powers with the hope that a professional agency will use them with care. They must have also thought that such powers are necessary as those who commit economic offences do so after extensive preparations, and are well-connected and aware of the loopholes in the law.

But the ED has a history of either abusing or misusing those powers but never of using them to bring law-breakers before the law. The conviction rate of cases the ED has prosecuted, as per reports, is less than one per cent. It has been less than honest even before the courts of law — the Supreme Court was in one instance forced to call the bluff, saying the “confessional statement” of an accused was a piece of fiction of the agency. In the infamous gold smuggling case in Kerala, the agency gave the same PMLA court two versions on the source of the money the NIA seized from a bank locker while it submitted chargesheets on two accused persons.

It is sad that neither the legislature nor the executive is willing to take a relook at the gross abuse of legal powers by the agency as they suit their own interests, too. Even the Supreme Court has recently refused to do the same; instead, it added to the arbitrary powers of the agency. The wrongs of the agency can be corrected only partly by judicial orders; the job squarely rests with the legislature.

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