New Delhi: The Supreme Court Tuesday stayed the Delhi High Court order, which had dismissed the pleas filed by TMC MP Abhishek Banerjee and his wife Rujira Banerjee seeking quashing of summons issued to them in a money-laundering probe, and said the Enforcement Directorate (ED) can examine them in its Kolkata office by giving 24-hour advance notice. Observing that it would not tolerate any kind of “interference or hooliganism”, the apex court said the state shall provide adequate police protection to ED officials who would probe there.
The ED told the top court that according to them, the TMP MC is a “potential accused” and they want to interrogate him.
A bench headed by Justice U U Lalit issued notice to the ED on the plea filed by Abhishek and his wife against the high court order.
“Pending further consideration, there shall be interim stay on the effect and operation of the judgement presently under challenge, subject to; It shall be open to the directorate (ED) to require the attendance of the petitioners in its office situated at Kolkata by giving at least 24-hour notice,” the bench, also comprising Justices S R Bhat and Sudhanshu Dhulia, said.
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“Simultaneously, notice shall also be issued to the commissioner of police, Kolkata, and the chief secretary, state of West Bengal, so that adequate police protection is afforded to the persons seeking to examine or interrogate the petitioners are concerned,” the bench said.
It noted that the state’s counsel has assured that complete assistance shall be rendered by state machinery so that effective interrogation or examination can be undertaken by ED.
The bench noted it has been further submitted by the state’s counsel that apprehension expressed by Additional Solicitor General (ASG) S V Raju, who was representing ED, that there may be interference or obstruction in the interrogation is “completely misplaced” and every care shall be taken by the state machinery.
“On the assurance given by the counsel for the state that the entire state apparatus shall see to it that the interrogation or examination goes without any obstruction or interference, we have passed the aforesaid interim direction,” the bench said and posted the matter for July 19.
It said in the case, there would be any obstruction or interference, the ED shall be at liberty to approach the vacation bench of the apex court for appropriate directions.
“If there be any infraction, if there be any kind of interference or any kind of hooliganism, we will not tolerate,” the bench orally told the state’s counsel. The bench noted in its order that the state’s counsel has “also assured us that in case any complaint is or is likely to be filed against the officials involved in the task of interrogation or examining, no coercive action of any kind shall be initiated by the police or any state machinery against such official without taking leave of the court.” The ASG said the officers have been “hounded”. “Earlier also, as far as CBI officers are concerned, when some action was to be taken, the highest political figure of the state went there, sat in the CBI office. When the matter was being argued in the court, the law minister was there,” he said.
He said the offence has taken place within the territorial limit of Delhi and the complaint is also here.
“According to us, he is a potential accused and it’s a case of illegal mining worth thousands of crores. Rs 168 crore have been siphoned off and brought to Delhi…We have evidence against him. His name has surfaced,” he said.
“It’s not that we are just picking him up because of some other reason. His name has surfaced, we have evidence against him. Therefore, we want to interrogate him. It is not that we are just asking somebody to come because he is related to somebody. That’s not the case. We have a good case to interrogate him,” Raju argued.
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 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.
In their petition, Banerjee and his spouse have sought an ad-interim ex-parte stay of operation of March 11 order of the high court.
The plea has sought a direction to ED that they be probed at Kolkata and Rujira be exempted from personal appearance and be allowed to appear through her lawyer in the trial court.
The high court had denied 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 to 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 challenging ED’s complaint filed in the money laundering case against her, the trial court order taking cognisance 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).