Former finance minister P Chidambaram.
New Delhi: The contentions of the former Finance Minister P Chidambaram could lead to a mini-trial at an anticipatory bail stage which is neither contemplated nor permissible, said Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing Enforcement Directorate (ED) in the Supreme Court.
Mehta was arguing, on the fourth day of hearing, on Chidambaram's anticipatory bail plea before a bench headed by Justice R Banumathi. He contended that in the peculiar nature of the offence under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), as soon as an accused gets to know the nature of information received by an investigating agency during the course of the so-called "confrontation", he can immediately tamper with the evidence and try to erase the money trail and create a camouflage depending on the information revealed during such "confrontation".
Mehta told the court that there is no warrant or justification to read a requirement that first the accused would be shown and confronted with the material while he is at large.
It will give an opportunity to the accused to tamper with the evidence and influence witnesses. Thereafter, the accused can file an anticipatory bail, after which the court would undertake a detailed exercise such as a mini-trial of perusing the record, Mehta contended, referring to offences under PML Act as the gravest of the grave offences irrespective of the punishment provided. The gravity of these offences has an impact on the society, economy, financial stability of the country and national interest.
Mehta also told the court that the offences under PML Act are always very sophisticated and well-crafted where the persons involved are resourceful, educated, well-informed and brilliant. in these cases, money is laundered by layers of shell companies or reported entities, and also by individuals incorporated or located in different parts of the world with several layers and facades.
"The investigation material collected at a pre-chargesheet stage is required to be handled with extreme confidentiality", submitted Mehta affirmatively before the court.
The ED's counsel also submitted a nine-point reply based on a scenario if the accused's contention regarding confrontation were accepted by the court. He argued that such a contention would surely have devastating consequences and would defeat the very purpose of investigation into such serious offences.
"If such a self-serving course of action is accepted, the accused may even go to the extent of making a potential co-accused co-conspirators, a link in chain of money laundering or informant disappearing or erasing the trail," ED submitted in its reply.
Mehta told the court that under PMLA, there is always a requirement of confronting the accused not only with some of the material but with some of the accused/co-conspirators.