The Enforcement Directorate told the Delhi High Court on Tuesday that the plea by TMC MP Abhishek Banerjee and his wife seeking quashing of its summons in a money laundering case, linked to an alleged coal scam in West Bengal, was premature and not maintainable.
The ED argued that Banerjee and his wife Rujira are seeking quashing of the summons and not appearing before the probe agency for questioning and then claiming that they are not averse to the investigation and not coming in its way.
It is like saying I am not getting married to a woman, I am only solemnising the marriage, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the ED, submitted before Justice Yogesh Khanna.
The court was hearing a petition by Banerjee, nephew of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, and his wife, challenging the September 10 summons issued to them and seeking to direct the ED not to summon them in Delhi as they are residents of West Bengal.
The couple, asked by the agency to appear before it in person in Delhi on September 21 along with a voluminous set of documents, has contended that they are residents of Kolkata and should not be compelled to join the probe here.
The 33-year-old MP represents the Diamond Harbour seat in Lok Sabha and is the national general secretary of the Trinamool Congress (TMC).
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, representing the Banerjee couple, said the ED was entitled to investigate under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) and there was no dispute in it.
I don’t know at this stage whether you wish to examine me as an accused or a witness. Under section 160 of the CrPC, you are obligated to interrogate me under the jurisdiction of police station where I am residing, he argued.
Sibal countered the ED submission that the petition was premature as it is filed at the stage of issuance of summons, saying how can it be premature since Banerjee has challenged the legality of summons and raised a legal issue.
It is a question of great ego on their part and not mine. The issue with them is how I can challenge government of India, he contended.
Today they are calling and summoning the couple to Delhi, tomorrow they can ask it to come to Bombay or Kerala for questioning, Sibal said, adding, is there any law applicable in this country or not.
Responding to this, Mehta said: “Your lordship reads newspaper and watches TV. Whenever law enforcement agencies go to Calcutta, your lordship knows what happens. They gherao’ officials and stone pelting is resorted to. Their one line argument is that come to Calcutta if you can.
Sibal strongly objected to this contention and said don’t make political arguments here, don’t talk of stones. Make legal submissions. Look at the way you have used law enforcing agencies.
Mehta shot back that he was only making legal arguments and not political ones.
The court listed the matter for further arguments on September 30.
The high court had earlier refused to grant any interim relief to Banerjee and his wife in the matter.
The ED has opposed the plea saying money laundering has national and trans-national ramifications and its investigation is not restricted to any police station or area.
The petitioners’ counsel had said he was not asking for any stay and he was only saying that they can do the questioning in West Bengal.
He had claimed that before the summons reached Banerjee, it was leaked to the media and it seemed to be a mala fide and a completely fishing and roving enquiry and this is how the system is being used to denigrate us.
Additional Solicitor General S V Raju and advocate Amit Mahajan, also representing the ED, had said under the PMLA, there is no territorial jurisdiction for carrying out investigation and there are no territorial limits unlike under the CrPC, where a police officer cannot go beyond his territorial jurisdiction.
The plea has said a greater degree of protection is granted to a woman under Section 160 of the CrPC, which mandates that she shall not be required to attend any place other than where she resides.
The ED lodged a case under the provisions of the PMLA on the basis of 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.
The ED had claimed that the TMC MP was a beneficiary of funds obtained from this illegal trade. He has denied all charges.
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