The Supreme Court on Wednesday, January 25, 2023, asked a Ghaziabad Special Judge in Uttar Pradesh to adjourn the summons proceedings scheduled against journalist Rana Ayyub on January 27 in a money laundering case.
A Bench of Justices Krishna Murari and V. Ramasubramanian listed Ms. Ayyub's writ petition for detailed hearing on January 31.
Ms. Ayyub has moved the apex court challenging the jurisdiction of the Ghaziabad court, saying the alleged offence, if there is any, occurred in Mumbai.
The Bench made it clear that they have posted the case on January 31 owing to paucity of time on Wednesday. The Supreme Court said its request to the Ghaziabad court to adjourn the hearing was not a reflection on the merits of the case against Ms. Ayyub.
The Bench initially questioned Ms. Ayyub's choice of filing a writ petition directly before the Supreme Court. Justice Murari asked why she had not approached the Allahabad High Court.
Advocate Vrinda Grover, appearing for the journalist, said her client's liberty was at stake and urged for protection from coercive action for the next four to six weeks.
"I have never been arrested," Ms. Grover submitted on behalf of Ms. Ayyub.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, for the Enforcement Directorate (ED), said Ms. Ayyub could seek anticipatory bail if she feared arrest.
"Please do not accede to the request. This is a serious case. There was crowd-funding and collection of money," Mr. Mehta claimed.
The Ghaziabad Police had registered the case in September 2021 with respect to the money raised through fundraiser campaigns via an online crowdfunding platform, Ketto. Various provisions of the Indian Penal Code, the Information Technology Act, and the Black Money Act were invoked. Based on the case, the ED initiated its money laundering probe.
It was also alleged that Ms. Ayyub had received overseas donations without registration under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation Act).
According to the ED, its probe revealed that Ms. Ayyub had launched three fundraiser campaigns on the Ketto platform starting from April 2020 and collected funds totalling to over ₹2.69 crore. The campaigns were to help raise funds for slum dwellers and farmers, relief work for Assam, Bihar, and Maharashtra, and assist those impacted by COVID-19 in the country.
The agency has alleged that the funds raised on the online platforms were received in the accounts of her father and sister and subsequently transferred to her personal accounts. Ms. Ayyub allegedly used the funds to create a fixed-deposit of ₹50 lakh for herself and also transferred ₹50 lakh in a new bank account.
Only about ₹29 lakh was used for relief work, said the ED, alleging that in order to claim more expenses towards relief work, fake bills were submitted by Ms. Ayyub.
Ms. Ayyub had earlier issued a statement terming the allegations in the media baseless, mala fide, and fanciful. Giving a detailed account of the funds and expenditures, she said that she had provided bills/invoices for relief work worth ₹40 lakh.
She had donated ₹74.50 lakh to the CM CARES Fund of Maharashtra and the PM CARES Fund. Over ₹1.14 crore was used for relief work and ₹1.05 crore was collected as tax by the Income Tax Department, and the rest of the money was in the form of the fixed deposit in her account, which had been created for setting up a hospital, said her statement.