Anticipatory bail in allegations of money laundering by ex Minister, P. Chidambaram

Money-laundering is the process of concealing illicit sources of money and the launderer transforming the money proceeds derived from criminal activity into funds and moved to other institution or transformed into legitimate asset.

It is realised world around that money laundering poses a serious threat not only to the financial systems of the countries but also to their integrity and sovereignty. The Prevention of Money-laundering Act, 2002 was enacted in pursuance of the Political Declaration adopted by the Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly held in June 1998, calling upon the Member States to adopt national money-laundering legislation and programme, primarily with a view to meet out the serious threat posed by money laundering to the financial system of the countries and to their integrity and sovereignty.

The predicate offences are under Sections 120B IPC and 420 IPC, Section 8 and Section 13(2) read with Section 13(1)(d) of Prevention of Corruption Act. Case is registered against the appellant and others under Sections 3 and 4 of PMLA. The main point falling for consideration is whether the appellant is entitled to the privilege of anticipatory bail.

Decision of Supreme Court:

Grant of anticipatory bail at the stage of investigation may frustrate the investigating agency in interrogating the accused and in collecting the useful information and also the materials which might have been concealed. Success in such interrogation would elude if the accused knows that he is protected by the order of the court. Grant of anticipatory bail, particularly in economic offences would definitely hamper the effective investigation. Having regard to the materials said to have been collected by the respondent-Enforcement Directorate and considering the stage of the investigation, we are of the view that it is not a fit case to grant anticipatory bail.

Money Laundering:

In a case of money-laundering where it involves many stages of “placement”, “layering i.e. funds moved to other institutions to conceal origin” and “interrogation i.e. funds used to acquire various assets”, it requires systematic and analysed investigation which would be of great advantage. As held in Anil Sharma, success in such interrogation would elude if the accused knows that he is protected by a pre-arrest bail order. Section 438 Cr.P.C. is to be invoked only in exceptional cases where the case alleged is frivolous or groundless. In the case in hand, there are allegations of laundering the proceeds of the crime. The Enforcement Directorate claims to have certain specific inputs from various sources, including overseas banks. Letter rogatory is also said to have been issued and some response have been received by the department. Having regard to the nature of allegations and the stage of the investigation, in our view, the investigating agency has to be given sufficient freedom in the process of investigation. Though we do not endorse the approach of the learned Single Judge in extracting the note produced by the Enforcement Directorate, we do not find any ground warranting interference with the impugned order. Considering the facts and circumstances of the case, in our view, grant of anticipatory bail to the appellant will hamper the investigation and this is not a fit case for exercise of discretion to grant anticipatory bail to the appellant.

[Source: P. Chidambaram vs Directorate Of Enforcement decided by SC on 5 September, 2019]
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