Madras High Court reserves orders on Senthilbalaji’s bail plea

Justice N. Anand Venkatesh wonders how can a court come to a conclusion, as required under Section 45 of PMLA, that a person is not likely to commit any offence after being granted bail

February 22, 2024 01:02 am | Updated 01:02 am IST - CHENNAI

V. Senthilbalaji 

V. Senthilbalaji  | Photo Credit: FILE PHOTO

The Madras High Court on Wednesday reserved its orders on a plea by former Minister V. Senthilbalaji to grant him bail in a money laundering case. The Directorate of Enforcement (ED) had arrested him in the case on June 14, 2023 and he remains in judicial custody since then.

Justice N. Anand Venkatesh deferred his verdict after hearing exhaustive arguments advanced by senior counsel C. Aryama Sundaram and A. Ramesh for the petitioner and Additional Solicitor General (ASG) AR.L. Sundaresan, assisted by Special Public Prosecutor N. Ramesh, for the ED.

In his submissions, Mr. Sundaram contended that though the ED had completed the investigation in the money laundering case and filed a prosecution complaint (similar to a charge sheet filed by local police in criminal cases), it had hardly collected any evidence to implicate his client.

Even the materials on which the prosecuting agency relied upon were not credible in nature and lacked probative value, he said and claimed the ED had also miserably failed to prove the relationship between the bail petitioner and the co-accused who were reportedly his personal assistants.

“Much is made of Shanmugam [who prosecution claimed to be Senthilbalaji’s PA]. He has been shown as my alter ego but he has denied any relationship with me. I have also denied any relationship him. Then, what is your evidence? When the marriage is denied by the couple what is the evidence to show that they are indeed married?” Mr. Sundaram asked.

He sought bail to the former Minister on multiple grounds such as lack of evidence, the investigation having been completed by the ED, the petitioner not being a Minister anymore consequent to his recent resignation and the huge number of days he had already been in judicial custody so far.

“Lastly, if he is a man who is going to threaten and influence witnesses if he is released on bail as projected by the prosecution, MiLord, in today’s walk of life, a threat can be equally made from inside than outside. This is the real fact of life,” the senior counsel said and sought bail on any condition.

Prosecution arguments

On his part, the ASG told the court there was credible evidence on record against the bail petitioner and therefore, he must necessarily face trial to prove his innocence instead of making tall claims of having created a dent in the prosecution case for the purpose of seeking bail.

The law officer said, the money laundering case was booked on the basis of a cash for jobs scam case already investigated by the Chennai Central Crime Branch against the former Minister and there were records to show that huge amount of bribe was received for recruitment in government transport corporations.

The ASG said, the prosecution was in possession of letters written in the former Minister’s official letterhead seeking release of railway tickets under the Emergency Quota for Shanmugam and Karthikeyan by identifying them as his personal assistants and therefore, their relationship could not be disputed.

He also denied the bail petitioner’s allegation of the digital evidence, relied upon by the ED, having been manipulated and tampered with and said, the prosecution was ready to prove the genuineness of those evidences during the course of trial before the Sessions Court.

Judge’s query

During the course of arguments, Justice Venkatesh said, Section 45 of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 states that bail could not be granted to an accused under the Act unless the court was satisfied that there were reasonable grounds to believe that he/she was not guilty of such offence.

Further, the legal provision also states the court must be satisfied that the accused being granted bail was not likely to commit any offence while on bail. The judge wondered how could any court come to a conclusion that an accused would not commit any offence after being granted bail.

“Can anyone in the world say that a person is not likely to commit any offence. We may not know what is likely to happen. If he goes out and scolds somebody that itself will be an offence. Therefore, this second limb of Section 45 always disturbs me. It is such a difficult limb to really satisfy,” the judge remarked.

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