Supreme Court to hear next week plea of TMC MP Abhishek Banerjee, spouse in PMLA case

Supreme Court to hear next week plea of TMC MP Abhishek Banerjee, spouse in PMLA case
The Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to list next week for hearing the appeal of TMC MP Abhishek Banerjee and his wife Rujira Banerjee against a Delhi High Court order dismissing their petition seeking quashing of summons issued to them in a money-laundering probe linked to an alleged coal scam in West Bengal. A bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana took note of the submissions of senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the Banerjee couple, that the plea be listed for urgent hearing.

“We will list it next week,” said the bench which also comprised Justices Krishna Murari and Hima Kohli.

In a petition filed through lawyer Sunil Fernandes, Banerjee and his spouse have sought an ad-interim ex-parte stay of operation of the March 11 order of the Delhi High Court.

The plea has sought a direction to the ED that they be probed at Kolkata and Rujira Banerjee be exempted from personal appearance and be allowed to appear through her lawyer in the trial court.

A single-judge bench of the high court had denied the relief to Abhishek Banerjee, the nephew of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, and his wife Rujira Banerjee who had challenged the September 10, 2021 summons issued to them and had sought direction to the Enforcement Directorate (ED) not to summon them for their appearance in Delhi since they are residents of West Bengal.

The high court had also dismissed Rujira’s other petition which had challenged the ED’s complaint filed in the money laundering case against her, the trial court order taking cognisance of that complaint, and the subsequent issuance of a summons for physical appearance.

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The appeal, in the apex court, said, “The substantial question of law, having great public importance that arises for the kind consideration of this Hon’ble Court in the instant petition is whether the Respondent-ED can assume a pan-India jurisdiction, to summon any person, without indicating to such person as to whether they are being summoned as an accused/ suspect or as a witness, at any place of their choice, under the purported garb of Section 50 of the PMLA, in utter derogation of the Fundamental Rights of the witness/accused persons, salutary principles of fair play and expeditious investigation, and the extant provisions of the CrPC and the PMLA.”

The couple, who was asked by the agency to personally appear before it in New Delhi on September 21, 2021, along with a voluminous set of documents, had contended in the petition that they were residents of Kolkata and should not be compelled to join the probe here.

The 34-year-old MP represents the Diamond Harbour seat in Lok Sabha and is the national general secretary of the Trinamool Congress (TMC).

The high court had earlier refused to grant any interim relief to Banerjee and his wife in the matter.

The ED lodged a case under the provisions of the PMLA based on a November 2020 FIR registered by the CBI that alleged a multi-crore coal pilferage scam related to Eastern Coalfields Ltd mines in the state’s Kunustoria and Kajora areas in and around Asansol.

Local coal operative Anup Majhi alias Lala is alleged to be the prime suspect in the case.

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The ED had claimed that the TMC MP was a beneficiary of funds obtained from this illegal trade. He has denied all charges.

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