No stipulation of period of completion of Serious Fraud Investigations under Companies Act

Supreme Court: The bench of Abhay Manohar Sapre and UU Lalit, JJ has held that Section 212 of the Companies Act, 2013 does not prescribe any period within which a report has to be submitted by Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO) to the Central Government.

Lalit, J, writing for himself and Sapre, J listed down the ‘basic features’ that were considered while coming to this conclusion:

  1. Absolute transfer of investigation in terms of Section 212(2) of 2013 Act in favour of SFIO and upon such transfer all documents and records are required to be transferred to SFIO by every other Investigating Agency.
  2. For completion of investigation, sub-Section (12) of Section 212 does not contemplate any period.
  3. Under sub-Section (11) of Section 212 there could be interim reports as and when directed.

He said that in the face of these three salient features it cannot be said that the prescription of period within which a report is to be submitted by SFIO under sub-Section (3) of Section 212 is for completion of period of investigation and on the expiry of that period the mandate in favour of SFIO must come to an end. If it was to come to an end, the legislation would have contemplated it.

“In the absence of any clear stipulation, in our view, an interpretation that with the expiry of the period, the mandate in favour of SFIO must come to an end, will cause great violence to the scheme of legislation. If such interpretation is accepted, with the transfer of investigation in terms of sub Section (2) of Section 212 the original Investigating Agencies would be denuded of power to investigate and with the expiry of mandate SFIO would also be powerless which would lead to an incongruous situation that serious frauds would remain beyond investigation. That could never have been the idea.”

The Court hence concluded that the only construction which was, possible therefore, was that the prescription of period within which a report has to be submitted to the Central Government under sub-Section (3) of Section 212 is purely directory. It added:

“Even after the expiry of such stipulated period, the mandate in favour of the SFIO and the assignment of investigation under sub-Section (1) would not come to an end. The only logical end as contemplated is after completion of investigation when a final report or “investigation report” is submitted in terms of sub-Section (12) of Section 212.”

Sapre, J in his concurrent opinion said:

“If the submission of the learned counsel for the respondents (writ petitioners) that the compliance of sub-section (3) of Section 212 of the Act in relation to the submission of the report be held mandatory is accepted (which I am afraid, I cannot accept) in our view, the very purpose of enacting Section 212 of the Act would get defeated and will become nugatory.”

[Serious Fraud Investigation Office v. Rahul Modi, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 423, decided on 27.03.2019]

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