calcutta high court

Calcutta High Court: While deciding a revisional application challenging the Metropolitan Magistrate’s order allowing the Enforcement Directorate’s application to commit the case to the Special Designated Court under Section 44(1)(c) of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 (PMLA), a single-judge bench comprising of Tirthankar Ghosh, J., affirmed the commitment of the case to the Special Designated Court under PMLA, emphasizing the legislative intent for the same court to try both scheduled offenses and offenses under the PMLA.

Factual Matrix

In the instant matter a revisional application is preferred to challenge the order dated 24-03-2021, issued by the Metropolitan Magistrate, Calcutta under Sections 420/467/468/471 of the Penal Code, 1860 (IPC), whereby the lower court allowed the application filed by the Complainant/Enforcement Directorate (ED), directing the appearance of all accused persons for committing the case to the Special Designated Court under Section 44(1)(c) of the PMLA.

The ED’s application under Section 44(1)(c) of the PMLA detailed the registration of FIRs and charge sheets by CBI and Kolkata Police, highlighting multiple pending charge sheets before different Metropolitan Magistrates. The ED asserted that the scheduled offences were also money laundering offences, initiating an Enforcement Case Information Report (ECIR). Subsequently, a complaint under Section 45 of the PMLA was filed, leading to the transfer of the case to the Special CBI Judge.

Parties’ Contentions

While contesting the impugned order, the petitioners argued that the statutory language did not mandate automatic transfer of the scheduled offence to the Special Court. It was highlighted the legislative amendment removing the word ‘only’ from Section 44(1)(a) and contended that the word ‘shall’ in Section 44(1)(c) should be read as ‘may.’ The petitioner emphasized discretion for regular courts and cited precedents asserting that procedural safeguards should be uniform for similarly situated litigants.

While relying on Section 44 of the PMLA, the respondent-ED contended that the intention was for the Special Court to try both money laundering and scheduled offences. It was argued that Sections 44(1)(a) and 44(1)(c) confer primacy on the Special Court under PMLA, asserting jurisdiction over both offences. It was emphasized that Explanation (i) clarified that trying both offences did not constitute a joint trial.

Court’s Assessment

The Court upheld the order of the Metropolitan Magistrate, emphasizing the legislative intent for the Special Designated Court to try both money laundering and scheduled offences. The court held that a harmonious construction of Sections 44(1)(a), 44(1)(c), and Explanation (i) indicated that the same Special Designated Court should try both scheduled offenses and offenses under the PMLA.

“…a conjoint reading of Section 44(1)(a), Section 44(1)(c) along with Explanations (i) to the Section 44(1) makes it abundantly clear that the legislative intention was that one and same Court would try both the offences and the Special Designated Court being vested with the Sessions power for dealing with offences under PMLA would try such offence.”

While rejecting petitioners’ arguments regarding the discretionary nature of the provision and the deletion of the word ‘only’ in Section 44(1)(a) of the PMLA, the Court affirmed the significance of ‘shall’ in Section 44(1)(c) and the absence of a mandate for joint trials. The Court emphasized the interconnected nature of the offences and the impact of trial outcomes on both aspects of the case. The Court confirmed the Special Designated Court as the appropriate venue for the trial.

Court’s Decision

The Court held that the order did not warrant interference, and the revisional application was dismissed. Any pending applications were disposed of, and interim orders, if any, were vacated.

[Ranjit Singh Kothari v. State of W.B., 2023 SCC OnLine Cal 4662, order dated 22-11-2023]

*Judgment by Justice Tirthankar Ghosh

Advocates who appeared in this case :

Mr. Ayan Bhattacherjee, Mr. Indrajit Adhikari, Mr. Amitabrata Hait, Mr. Suman Majumder, Counsel for the Petitioners

Mr. Vipul Kundalia, Mr. Anurag Roy, Ms. Uneaza Ali, Counsel for the ED/Opposite Party 2

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