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Evidentiary Rigor: Delhi High Court’s Observations in Denying Bail to AAP MP Sanjay Singh

Introduction

The case of Sanjay Singh v. Directorate of Enforcement[i] pertained to the alleged involvement of Aam Aadmi Party (‘AAP’) Member of Parliament, Sanjay Singh (‘Applicant’), in a money laundering operation associated with the Delhi excise policy. The Directorate of Enforcement (‘ED’) has accused the Applicant of financial impropriety and sought to establish his culpability under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 (‘PMLA’). In the present case, the Delhi High Court (‘DHC’) observed that the evidence brought before it prima facie suggested the Applicant’s involvement in shaping the excise policy to benefit specific parties.

Brief Facts

  • The case was registered by the ED in relation to the predicate offence case registered by the Central Bureau of Investigation (‘CBI’) under s. 120B read with s. 447 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (‘IPC’) and s. 7 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 (‘PC Act’) inter alia on the basis of a complaint dated 20.07.2022 made by the Lieutenant Governor of Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (‘GNCTD’).

  • The controversy revolved around the formulation of the excise policy of GNCTD wherein all the 16 accused persons had allegedly hatched a criminal conspiracy, in furtherance of which deliberate loopholes had been left in the excise policy to be utilized later. The ED contended that the Applicant was part of the preparation of the policy, which was altered to favour certain co-accused individuals. These co-accused persons had allegedly paid kickbacks to the Applicant and others, resulting in financial gains from the excise policy.

  • The Applicant vehemently denied any wrongdoing. It was emphasized that the ED was primarily relying upon the statements of four witnesses which were doubtful due to material contradictions in the said statements and no independent evidence was collected by the ED apart from the incriminating statements of the co-accused turned approver Sh. Dinesh Arora. The approver’s statements are recorded under s. 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (‘CrPC’) and s. 50 of the PMLA corroborated the documentary evidence collected in the form of call detail records with the location chart of one, Sh. Sarvesh Mishra.

  • Furthermore, it was argued that the false and frivolous allegation levelled regarding Rs. 2 crores being handed over to the Applicant or ‘his persons’ had not been mentioned in the predicate offence. In the absence of the same, it could not be said that the said amount constituted proceeds of crime.

  • The ED, in its submission, presented evidence suggesting a direct link between the Applicant’s actions and the financial gains accrued by the Applicant and other co-accused persons. The ED highlighted specific statements indicating that Rs. 2 crores were paid to an individual named Sarvesh Mishra at the Applicant’s official residence. This payment allegedly influenced the formulation of the new excise policy to suit the interests of the Applicant and the co-accused persons.

  • The Applicant was arrested in the present case on 04.10.2023 and sent to judicial custody thereafter. The Applicant’s application for regular bail was previously dismissed by the Sessions Court which prompted the present appeal before the DHC.

Held

  • The DHC, in its order dated 07.02.2024, denied bail to the Applicant. The DHC found no merit in the argument that the Applicant was not named in the FIR of the predicate offence and observed that the evidence brought before it prima facie suggested the Applicant’s involvement in shaping the excise policy to benefit specific parties.

  • Notably, the DHC rejected the argument questioning the credibility of Dinesh Arora, an accused-turned-approver, who had claimed to have been threatened by Vijay Nair, AAP’s former communication in-charge, in London. It was noted that some of Arora’s statements were recorded before a Magistrate and would eventually be subject to cross-examination to assess their evidentiary value during the course of the trial. 

  • The DHC concluded that the Applicant’s involvement could not be entirely ruled out at that stage. The denial of bail was inter alia based on the premise that the Applicant’s actions were integral to the financial gains generated through the modified excise policy.

  • Despite allegations of political influence, the DHC asserted its duty to uphold the law impartially, regardless of the Applicant’s or the ED’s status or standing. Accordingly, the DHC directed the trial court to expedite the proceedings to ensure a fair trial for the Applicant without undue delay.

Analysis

The DHC’s cautious approach in this case underscores the gravity of the allegations against the Applicant. The Delhi excise policy case involves intricate financial transactions and potential money laundering. Given the stakes, the DHC exercised prudence in its evaluation, recognizing that granting relief at this stage could compromise the ongoing investigation. The DHC’s insistence on a thorough trial ensures that the rights of the accused are protected while maintaining the integrity of the legal process. By directing the trial court to expedite proceedings once they commence, the DHC reaffirmed its commitment to justice. The DHC clarified that observations made in this decision were solely for the purposes of the bail application and did not prejudice the merits of the case which the trial court would adjudicate upon.

The Applicant awaits his upcoming bail hearing before the Hon’ble Supreme Court on 05.03.2024, legal observers closely monitor the unfolding proceedings, recognizing their broader implications for criminal jurisprudence.


End Note

[i] 2024 SCC OnLine Del 773


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

 

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