Delhi High Court: Anup Jairam Bhambhani J., granted bail to an accused in a money-laundering case involving a sum of more than INR 2000 crores. Upholding the legal principle of the presumption of innocence of an accused until proven guilty, the Court found that in the absence of compelling grounds and reasons, the under-trial accused could not be detained in judicial custody.

The applicant sought regular bail after being arrested in the complaint case arising from an Enforcement Case Information Report (ECIR). According to the Enforcement Directorate’s (ED) allegations, the applicant owns 50% shares in a company which in turn owns 50% of an RBI recognized non-banking financial company Religare Enterprises Ltd. (REL). It is alleged that the applicant misappropriated money, amounting to over INR 2036 crores, lent by REL to entities controlled or owned by the applicant.

The Court opined that the applicant was not in a position to tamper with evidence, since the allegedly offending transactions cannot be altered by virtue of their being reflected in several records, including those of regulatory bodies such as the RBI, SEBI, etc. and also because all records of such transactions had already been seized by the ED. Since the ED had confirmed that it would not interrogate the applicant while he was in judicial custody, it found the applicant’s detention unreasonable, especially as there was no foreseeable timeline within which the ED was to complete its investigations.

Bench held that the applicant had deep roots in society and was not a flight-risk, so “no purpose would be served by keeping him in judicial custody.” The nature of an offence should have a limited role in determining the merits of a bail application, and even though the applicant is accused of committing an offence whose financial implications are large in quantum, such losses cannot be compensated for by keeping the under-trial applicant in prolonged custody. It emphasized on the importance of time-bound investigations, stating that “criminal investigation is not a metaphorical fishing-rod handed to an investigating agency, to indulge its penchant for ‘fishing around’ for evidence.”

Highlighting the dire situation of undertrials in prisons, it reiterated Sanjay Chandra v. CBI’s (2012) 1 SCC 40 ruling that every man is innocent until duly tried and found guilty, and that it would be inappropriate to refuse bail to an undertrial simply to give him “a taste of imprisonment as a lesson.” It approved the bail application and directed the applicant to be released, subject to certain conditions laid down in the order. [Shivinder Mohan Singh v. Directorate of Enforcement, 2020 SCC OnLine Del 766 , decided on 23-07-2020]

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