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Adherence to Procedural Timelines: Tribunal upholds ED’s Provisional Attachment

Introduction

In the case of Yashovardhan Birla v. Deputy Director Directorate of Enforcement[i], the Appellate Tribunal SAFEMA, New Delhi (‘Tribunal’) disposed of the appeal, filed by the Yashovardhan Birla (‘Appellant’) challenging the order of the Ld. Adjudicating Authority (‘AA’) which confirmed the provisional attachment of assets made by the Directorate of Enforcement (‘ED’) through provisional attachment order (‘PAO’). The primary issues at hand included the legality of the provisional attachment of assets and the applicability of amendments to the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 (‘PMLA’), particularly regarding the timeline for filing a prosecution complaint.

Brief Facts

  • A First Information Report (‘FIR’) was filed against M/s Birla Power Solutions Ltd. and its directors, for committing offences under ss. 406, 420, and 120(B) of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (‘IPC’) and ss. 3 and 4 of the Maharashtra Protection of Interest of Depositors Act,1999 (‘MPID’).

  • The case was transferred to the economic offences wing (‘EOW’), which filed a chargesheet on 29.03.2014 in the MPID Court against one of the accused. The chargesheet revealed that the Appellant had collected approx. Rs. 300 to 400 crores through Fixed Deposits (‘FDs’) and Inter-Corporate Deposits (‘ICDs’) from around 100-150 entities by advertising interest rates. However, the Appellant failed to repay Rs. 57.04 crore towards FDs and Rs. 214 crores towards ICDs.

  • As offences under ss. 420 and 120-B IPC are scheduled offences under the PMLA, the ED registered an ECIR dated 17.01.2014 against the same parties. Investigations revealed that funds collected via FDs and ICDs were siphoned off to other companies within the Yash Birla Group.

  • Consequently, the ED provisionally attached certain immovable properties and filed an original complaint (‘OC’) under s. 5(5) of the PMLA. The AA confirmed the provisional attachment of properties on 19.01.2015. Aggrieved by this order, the Appellant filed an Appeal before the Tribunal.  

  • The primary issue raised by the Appellant was that PAO was confirmed on 19.01.2015 and the OC was filed on 16.07.2018 with an exonerate delay of more than three years since the filing of the OC. Additionally, the Appellant contended that as per s.8 effective from 19.04.2018, the ED was required to file the prosecution complaint within 90 days after the confirmation of the attachment order. Therefore, the property attached should be released.

Held

  • The Tribunal dismissed the appeal and affirmed the attachment of properties on the reasoning that the Appellant’s contention was without merit and that the ED’s actions were in adherence to the provisions of the PMLA.

  • The Tribunal found that the ED had complied with the amended legal requirements regarding the timeline for filing a prosecution complaint under the PMLA.

  • The Tribunal observed that the amendment to s. 8(1)(a) of the PMLA, introduced via the Finance Act, 2018, set a 90-day period for filing a prosecution complaint from the date of the AA's order, effective from 19.04.2018. The prosecution complaint in this case was filed on 16.07.2018, which was within the prescribed 90-day period.

  • Thus, the Tribunal rejected the Appellant’s argument that the amendment should be applied retrospectively to invalidate the provisional attachment and found no illegality in the continued attachment of the properties during the pendency of the prosecution complaint.

Our Analysis                                                                                                       

The Tribunal’s decision emphasized the importance of adhering to procedural timelines in cases of money laundering and asset attachment. It clarified that amendments intended to provide reasonable time for law enforcement actions do not retrospectively affect prior attachments. It reinforced the principle that procedural amendments unless expressly stated otherwise, apply prospectively.

The impact of this ruling is significant for similar cases, as it provides clarity on the interpretation and application of amendments to procedural laws in financial crime investigations. It serves as a precedent, ensuring that enforcement agencies have sufficient time to file necessary legal actions without jeopardizing ongoing investigations and attachments.

 



End Note

[i] [2024] 162 taxmann.com 428 (SAFEMA - New Delhi)





Authored by Pratima Ajmera, Advocate at Metalegal Advocates. The views expressed are personal and do not constitute legal opinion.

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