The validity of a wide range of powers granted to the Enforcement Directorate under the amended law against money laundering — challenged by nearly 250 petitions — will come up for a decision before the Supreme Court today. The verdict by the bench of Justices AM Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari and CT Ravi Kumar is likely to affect a huge number of opposition leaders — including Congress’s Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi — who are under the scanner of the Central investigating agency. The powers available to the Enforcement Directorate for search, arrest, seizure, investigation and attachment of proceeds of offense under PMLA have been challenged. The petitioners have argued that these provisions violate some of the fundamental rights granted by the Constitution.
Several petitioners have also pointed to the misuse of the recent amendments to the law, saying certain provisions need to be read down. Senior lawyers, including Kapil Sibal, Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Mukul Rohatgi had argued in its favour before the Supreme Court.
The law has been criticised on many aspects — stricter bail conditions, non-reporting of grounds of arrest, arrest of persons without ECIR (similar to FIR) copy, the broad definition of money laundering and proceeds of crime.
Many have also questioned provisions like statements made by accused during investigation being considered as evidence in trial. This provision is singular to PMLA. Statements given to the police or any other investigating agency are not admissible in court in view of possible coercion by investigating officials.
The Center had defended the amendments to PMLA, saying money laundering poses threat not only financial systems but the integrity and sovereignty of nations, since money laundering is conducted not just by corrupt businessmen like Vijay Mallya or Nirav Modi but also by terror groups. Altogether, 242 appeals have been filed on the issue, including those by Congress’s Karti Chidambaram and former Maharashtra minister, Nationalist Congress Party’s Anil Deshmukh. With many leaders under the scanner of the ED over the money laundering laws, the opposition has repeatedly accused the Centre of misusing the Central agencies to fulfill a political vendetta. Among the big names are Congress’s Sonia Gandhi who was questioned today, former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah and Trinamool Congress’s Partha Chatterjee.