The Madras High Court on Tuesday dismissed a writ petition filed by former Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram’s wife Nalini Chidambaram, to forbear the Enforcement Directorate (ED) officials in Kolkata from taking “any coercive step or action or proceeding” against her under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) of 2002 in connection with the professional legal fees received by her from Saradha Realty.
Justice S.M. Subramaniam also dismissed another petition filed by her challenging the summons issued to her by ED officials on September 7, 2016. Delivering a common judgment in both the cases, the judge concurred with Additional Solicitor General G. Rajagopalan that she should appear in person when the officials deemed it necessary to explain certain financial transactions.
Though Ms. Chidambaram had heavily relied upon Section 160 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) which exempts women and children below 15 years of age from being summoned by the investigating officers, the judge said the petitioner, being a senior advocate with lucrative practice in various High Courts as well as the Supreme Court could not be heard to say that she was not capable of appearing in person for investigation.
“This court is aware of the fact that in certain circumstances, the women in this country are vulnerable. However, we are a fast- growing developing nation wherein women empowerment is provided in all walks of life... Therefore, this court has to consider the position, status and the capacity of a woman for the purpose of granting any exemption from participating or for personal appearance in investigation of such cases.
“This court expects that a respected senior advocate like the writ petitioner should not shy away from cooperating for an effective investigation of offences committed under the provisions of the PMLA... The magnitude of the alleged money laundering in the present case is running to several thousand crores, and therefore, certainly it is required of persons like the writ petitioner, who is of high status, to participate in the investigation process,” the judge said.
He pointed out that the ED had summoned her only after the explanation provided by her authorised representative N.R.R. Arun Natarajan was found to be unsatisfactory. On her apprehension that the ED officials might have a plan to incarcerate her and that was the reason they had asked her to appear on a Friday, the judge said such apprehensions could never be entertained in a writ petition unless there were materials to prove them.
“If there are sufficient materials to proceed against the writ petitioner and if the investigating authorities have enough materials to proceed against a person in a manner known to law and by adhering to the provisions of law, then they are duty-bound to do so as the law so warrants. Thus, these are all the decisions to be taken only after completing an effective investigation,” the judge said and directed the ED to issue fresh summons to Ms. Chidambaram.