Thu, 19 May 2022

New Delhi [India], May 12 (ANI): The Supreme Court on Thursday asked the Enforcement Directorate (ED) why it cannot question Trinamool Congress's leader Abhishek Banerjee and his wife Rujira Banerjee in Kolkata instead of Delhi and said it will direct Kolkata police to provide protection to ED officials there so that they can question them without any hassle.

A bench of Justices UU Lalit, S Ravindra Bhat and Sudhanshu Dhulia said as the politician and his wife till now seem to be just a witness and not a potential accused asked ED, Delhi, why its officials can't go to Kolkata to question them.

As ED referred to how the CBI officials were surrounded in Kolkata earlier and Banerjee is "politically influential", the bench observed it may order the Kolkata Police to extend all cooperation and the state would be bound by that, the moment the agency would make a requisition 72 hours in advance.

Abhishek Banerjee, the nephew of TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee told the apex court that he is ready to be probed by ED in Kolkata.

ED is conducting the investigation in a money-laundering probe, linked to an alleged coal scam in West Bengal, in which the agency had issued summons to the Banerjee couple.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the petitioners, contended that Banerjees are not preventing investigation in the matter and the ED can come to Kolkata and conduct the probe.

"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 told the bench.

The bench then told the Additional Solicitor General (ASG) SV Raju who was representing the ED that it would say that the state of West Bengal shall, upon requisition by ED, give them a police force.

Banerjees have challenged the summons issued to them by ED for appearance here in connection with the money laundering probe linked to an alleged coal scam in West Bengal.

The couple has challenged the Delhi High Court March 11 order by which their pleas against the issuance of summons were dismissed.

Filing the plea through advocate Sunil Fernandes, Banerjees requested the top court to quash summons and restrain ED from seeking their presence for questioning in Delhi. They pleaded that they can be questioned by ED at Kolkata and sought a stay on High Court's order.

The petitioners have asked the apex court to decide whether ED can assume pan-India jurisdiction to summon persons from anywhere to Delhi.

"Whether the Respondent can assume pan-India jurisdiction to summon any person at the place of their choice while exercising powers under Section 50 PMLA?," the plea questioned while adding that High Court has failed to appreciate that the couple is permanent residents of Kolkata and the entire alleged cause of action and the place of the alleged offence, is in the State of West Bengal.

The search and seizure operations recorded in the FIR/RC took place in West Bengal wherein allegedly stolen coal was recovered and all the accused persons named in the FIR/RC are permanent residents of West Bengal, it added.

Approaching the top court, Banerjee said he belongs to TMC and was a leading figure in keenly contested Assembly Elections in the West Bengal in April/May 2021 (around the same time when the FIR was registered) wherein his party trounced the political party at power in the Centre, and "thereby giving justifiable cause to "target" and "fix" the Petitioner no.1 (Banerjee) by misusing the Central Investigation Agencies".

The contention of the petitioners is that this entire case against them is nothing but a political witch-hunt and cannot be brushed away lightly as done in the impugned order (of the High Court), the plea drawn by advocate Fernandes said.

The plea further stated that the High Court order is "misconceived, erroneous and deserves to be set aside".

The High Court had dismissed Banerjees' plea who had challenged the September 10, 2021 summons issued to them and had sought direction to the ED not to summon them for their appearance in Delhi since they are residents of West Bengal.

The 34-year-old MP represents the Diamond Harbour seat in Lok Sabha and is the national general secretary of the 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 Majee 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. Banerjee has denied all charges. (ANI)

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