The Enforcement Directorate, which is seeking transfer of the PMLA case in the ‘Nagrik Apurti Nigam’ (NAN) scam outside Chhattisgarh, on Tuesday claimed before the Supreme Court that a judge had met the chief minister two days before bail was granted to some of the accused.
Alleging “collusion” between the accused and “highly placed persons”, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the ED, told a bench headed by Chief Justice U U Lalit that 72 out 170 witnesses have turned hostile. It is impossible to have a free and fair trial in the case if it is held in the state, he asserted.
“The learned judge meeting the CM (chief minister) also is good enough, two days before the bail. I have nothing more to say. I did not want to say this. If this cannot shock your lordships’ conscience, nothing can,” Mr Mehta told the bench, which also comprised justices Ajay Rastogi and S R Bhat.
“Everything is not entered into in black and white. There would not be an agreement signed by the chief minister and the learned judge,” he said.
The anti-money laundering agency made a startling claim recently about some constitutional functionaries of Chhattisgarh being in touch with a high court judge to ensure judicial relief to some accused in a money laundering case arising out of the alleged multi-crore rupees NAN scam.
While hearing the matter on September 26, the apex court had highlighted the gravity of ED’s claim, saying it stood on “completely different footing” as the judge was allegedly a party to “some kind of conversation”.
Besides seeking transfer of the PMLA case outside Chhattisgarh, the ED has sought cancellation of anticipatory bail granted to some high-profile accused in the money laundering case.
It recently submitted a sealed cover report containing some objectionable WhatsApp messages, indicating the alleged involvement of the constitutional functionaries, to the bench.
During the arguments on Tuesday, Mehta referred to the chat messages which were placed before the court in a sealed cover.
“Now I will show from the record, which we have received from the Income Tax department, that SIT (special investigation team) head is in touch with the prime accused and they are exchanging the status report to be filed. And the accused are giving suggestions that you delete this, etc,” he said.
When one of the advocates appearing in the matter referred to the issue of maintainability and locus of the ED’s plea, the solicitor general said after going through the material placed on record, the apex court may consider taking it up suo motu.
“Otherwise there is no rule of law in this country if this is the way accused are raising preliminary objections and preventing your lordships from going through such materials,” he said.
“I am showing what was the level of collusion between the accused persons and highly placed persons,” Mehta said while referring to the messages.
The bench observed that fairness demands that if the court is taking cognisance on the basis of material placed before it in a sealed cover, then the other side must equally have the advantage or opportunity to go through that material and respond to it.
Mehta said that ED has nothing to hide and the State has been sharing everything with the accused.
The bench observed that issues raised before it are serious.
“At the same time, what you are inviting us to do would lead us to a dangerous path,” the bench observed.
It initially observed that the documents placed before it be shared with the counsel appearing for the state.
Mehta stressed that he should be provided with a copy of the trial court records of the case.
The arguments in the matter would continue on October 20.
The apex court had earlier asked the special court in Chhattisgarh not to proceed with the trial in the case.
Mehta had earlier referred to the facts and chronology of events in the case, alleging that witnesses have turned hostile and the entire trial in the predicate offences has been botched up.
The law officer had alleged that some high constitutional functionaries of the state along with members of the SIT were “weakening” the case with the connivance of the accused, which included two senior IAS officers.
Prior to this, the Chhattisgarh High Court had granted anticipatory bail to IAS officers Anil Tuteja and Alok Shukla in the money laundering case related to the Chhattisgarh Civil Supply Corporation scam.
In 2019, the ED had lodged an Enforcement Case Information Report (ECIR) under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, which was based on the FIR and charge sheet filed by the Chhattisgarh police’s economic offences wing (EOW) and the anti-corruption bureau (ACB) in the civil supply scam.
The alleged scam came to light in February 2015, when a BJP government under Raman Singh was at the helm.
The ACB conducted raids on the offices of NAN, the agency entrusted with the task of effective functioning of the Public Distribution System (PDS), and seized unaccounted cash totalling Rs 3.64 crore.
The FIR alleged wide-scale corrupt practices in the procurement and transportation of rice and other food grains which involved officials and others related to the state Civil Supplies Corporation, Raipur.
The central probe agency has alleged that the accused officers “time and again” evaded the proceedings established by law and have been successfully able to thwart an impartial investigation and trial due to their political clout.