New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday told the Enforcement Directorate (ED) that they can go to Kolkata and conduct the investigation in a money-laundering probe, linked to an alleged coal scam in West Bengal, in which the agency had issued summons to TMC MP Abhishek Banerjee and his wife Rujira Banerjee.
As the ED referred to how the CBI officials were ‘gheraoed’ (surrounded) in Kolkata earlier and said that Abhishek Banerjee is politically “influential”, the apex court observed it may say the Kolkata Police shall extend all cooperation and the state would be bound by that, the moment the agency would make a requisition 72 hours in advance.
A bench headed by Justice U U Lalit was hearing an appeal of Abhishek Banerjee and his wife Rujira Banerjee against a Delhi High Court order dismissing their petition seeking quashing of summons issued to them in the money-laundering probe linked to an alleged coal scam in West Bengal.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the petitioners, said they are not preventing investigation in the matter and the ED can come to Kolkata and conduct the probe.
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“Supposing in case we say whatever documents, whatever records you need, every page shall be made available and you can come down to Kolkata,” the bench, also comprising Justices S R Bhat and Sudhanshu Dhulia, told Additional Solicitor General (ASG) S V Raju who was representing the ED.
“Mylords are aware … I should not say, there are instances where the CBI officers were ‘gheraoed’ also,” Raju said.
On May 17 last year, a high voltage political drama was witnessed in Kolkata as TMC supporters held demonstrations at various places, while Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had offered to court arrest protesting detention of two West Bengal ministers in the Narada case by the CBI.
TMC party supporters had raised slogans against the BJP-led NDA government and hurled stones and bricks at security personnel outside Nizam Palace, which houses the CBI office, protesting the arrests.
During the hearing on Thursday, Sibal said ED has a regional office in Kolkata.
“I (petitioner) am not preventing investigation. I am saying please come and investigate me. The issue is not of investigation, the issue is where. I am saying please come and investigate me. I will answer all your questions, you come to Kolkata. They say no, we will not come, you come to Delhi. That’s the question,” Sibal said.
The bench told the ASG that it would say that the state of West Bengal shall, upon requisition by ED, give them a police force.
“Very well, we will give you that kind of leeway. But, you can go ahead, and check the entire record wherever it is…. We will say the state of West Bengal shall, upon your requisition, give you police,” it said.
When Raju said that ED has territorial jurisdiction and the case has been registered in Delhi, the bench said, “If you have territorial jurisdiction all over the country, you can as well go and make the investigation in Kolkata”.
The court said it is not saying at this juncture that authorities in Delhi are powerless or jurisdiction less. “Therefore, to have a smooth passage, if we say that you are there, the officials can also travel to Kolkata anytime. Therefore, we will say that the moment you make a requisition, 72 hours early, the Kolkata Police shall extend every cooperation and we will hold the state of West Bengal to be bound by that,” it said.
It said the ED is not saying at this juncture whether these persons are accused or potential accused.
Raju urged the bench to keep the matter tomorrow.
“Whether he is a potential accused, what is the material so far gathered against him, whether he is a witness or not, if he is a potential accused then section 160 (of CrPC) will not apply,” he said.
Section 160 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) deals with police officers’ power to require the attendance of witnesses. “We are not passing any order but whatever is the status today, shall continue,” the bench said while posting the matter for May 17.
Raju said there would not be any precipitative action.
In their petition, Banerjee and his spouse have sought an ad-interim ex-parte stay of operation on March 11 order of the Delhi High Court.
The plea has sought a direction to the ED that they are probed at Kolkata and Rujira Banerjee be exempted from personal appearance and be allowed to appear through her lawyer in the trial court.
The high court had denied the relief to Abhishek Banerjee, the nephew of Mamata Banerjee, and his wife who had challenged the September 10, 2021 summons issued to them and had sought direction from ED not to summon them for their appearance in Delhi since they are residents of West Bengal.
It had also dismissed Rujira’s other plea which had challenged the ED’s complaint filed in the money laundering case against her, the trial court order taking cognizance of that complaint, and the subsequent issuance of a summons for physical appearance.
The 34-year-old MP represents the Diamond Harbour seat in Lok Sabha and is the national general secretary of the Trinamool Congress (TMC).
The ED lodged a case under the provisions of the PMLA based on a November 2020 FIR registered by the CBI that alleged a multi-crore coal pilferage scam related to Eastern Coalfields Ltd mines in the state’s Kunustoria and Kajora areas in and around Asansol.
Local coal operative Anup Majhi alias Lala is alleged to be the prime suspect in the case.