Madras High Court dismisses jailed T.N. Minister Senthilbalaji’s bail plea made on health grounds

The Court accepted the contention of the Enforcement Directorate that the Minister wielded considerable power, and could try to influence witnesses if he was released on bail

October 19, 2023 11:42 am | Updated October 20, 2023 12:08 am IST - CHENNAI

Jailed Tamil Nadu Minister Senthilbalaji. File

Jailed Tamil Nadu Minister Senthilbalaji. File | Photo Credit: R. Ragu

The Madras High Court on Thursday denied bail to Minister V. Senthilbalaji, even on medical grounds, in a money laundering case that led to his arrest by the Directorate of Enforcement (ED) on June 14 this year. The court held that his medical records did not disclose any health condition that could be treated only if he was released on bail.

While denying the bail sought solely on account of ill-health, Justice G. Jayachandran also took into account the past conduct of the petitioner, his continuation as Minister even after arrest, his brother Ashok Kumar having absconded despite being a co-accused, and the attack on Income Tax (I-T) Department officials when they raided his premises in May this year. “These lead to an irresistible conclusion that he will directly and indirectly influence or cause deterrence to witnesses if released on bail...The non-cooperation of Mr. Ashok Kumar also justifies the apprehension of the ED that there is a flight risk causing impediment in progress of trial,” the judge wrote. 

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In his bail petition, the Minister had said he was seeking bail only on account of the health issues he was facing after undergoing Coronary Artery Bypass Grafting (CABG) at a private hospital in Chennai pursuant to his arrest. He reserved his right to seek bail on merits when the circumstances warrant so.

Representing the Minister, Senior Counsel N.R. Elango told the court that a proviso to Section 45(1)(ii) of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002, provides for granting bail if the accused was aged below 16, a woman, sick or infirm, or if the amount involved in money laundering was less than ₹1 crore.

As the Minister had been suffering from numbness on his left leg since the heart surgery, besides having other complications like constant headache, chest discomfort and inability to sit or walk for more than 10 minutes, he would squarely fall under the category of ‘sick’ mentioned in the proviso to Section 45(1)(ii), he contended.

However, Additional Solicitor General (ASG) AR.L. Sundaresan, assisted by Special Public Prosecutor N. Ramesh for the ED, said the proviso could be invoked only by an accused suffering from a grave or life threatening sickness/infirmity that could not be treated at a prison/government hospital and not in every other sundry case of sickness. Pointing out that the Minister was recently taken from the Puzhal Central Prison to the Government Stanley Hospital after he complained of uneasiness, the ASG said the doctors had found all vital parameters of the Minister to be normal. Since he was not suffering from any alarming health issue, he was not entitled to bail, he added and the judge concurred with him.

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