Senthilbalaji case | ED urges Madras High Court to order speedy trial, instead of granting bail

In a counter affidavit filed before Madras High Court, investigating officer Karthik Dasari accuses Senthilbalaji of intentionally stalling the commencement of trial in the money laundering case

February 14, 2024 09:59 am | Updated 12:24 pm IST - CHENNAI

Senthil Balaji  produced in a  Special Court in connection with the money laundering case registered by ED against him. File photo

Senthil Balaji produced in a Special Court in connection with the money laundering case registered by ED against him. File photo | Photo Credit: The Hindu

The Directorate of Enforcement (ED) has accused former Minister V. Senthilbalaji of intentionally stalling the commencement of trial in a money laundering case and urged the Madras High Court to order speedy trial instead of accepting his plea to grant bail until the completion of trial.

In a counter affidavit filed before Justice N. Anand Venkatesh, who is slated to hear the bail application today, February 14, 2024, the ED said, it had time and again expressed its readiness for commencement of trial but the accused was wilfully delaying the process before the Principal Sessions Court in Chennai.

Read more | On the arrest of Tamil Nadu Minister V. Senthilbalaji and its aftermath

‘Senthilbalaji may influence witnesses’

Stating that the former Minister could not complain of long pre-trial incarceration when the delay was caused by his own actions, the investigating officer Karthik Dasari said, the accused was a very influential person and hence there was high probability of him misusing his liberty to influence/threaten the witnesses.

The counter, filed through ED Special Public Prosecutor N. Ramesh, pointed out that the bail petitioner was arrested on June 14, 2023 and since then he was in judicial custody. The ED had completed the investigation and filed a prosecution complaint (similar to a charge sheet by local police) on August 12, 2023.

The prosecution complaint establishes the fact that the bail petitioner had played a pivotal role in exploiting his position as a Transport Minister, between 2011 and 2015, for personal gains by demanding and accepting bribe for appointment of drivers, conductors and others in government service, the ED said.

“He directly acquired illicit proceeds resulting from criminal activities linked to the scheduled offences under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), 2002. He conspired with his brother R.V. Ashok Kumar, his personal assistants B. Shanmugam and M. Karthikeyan and officials from the Transport Department, to orchestrate a strategy,” the counter read.

Though the petitioner had denied connections with Shanmugam and Karthikeyan when the ED officials recorded his statement under Section 50 of the PMLA, the investigation findings decisively establish his involvement, role and connections with them, the agency claimed.

“The evidence unquestionably demonstrates that the conspiracy to exchange cash for job selections, which the Minister claimed ignorance of, was conceived and executed under his directions and authority. Proceeds of the criminal activities were then laundered, involving layering and integration into the mainstream through cash deposits/associates for subsequent utilization in collusion with other suspects,” the investigating officer said.

‘Comprise formula criticised by SC’

The ED also highlighted that the Supreme Court, High Court as well as the Sessions Court had already found prima facie materials to prosecute the bail petitioner. It said, the Supreme Court had even criticised a compromise reached between the accused and the victims in one of the cash for jobs scam case booked by the local police.

“What was compromised between the complainant and accused is not just their disputes, but justice, fairplay, good conscience and the fundamental principles of criminal jurisprudence. In fact, the case on hand is one where there are two teams just for the purpose of record, but no one knows who is playing for which team and where the match was fixed... The investigation and trial of a criminal case cannot be converted by the complainant and the accused into a friendly match. If they are allowed to do so, it is the umpire who will lose his wicket,” the apex court had written.

Therefore, it was necessary to conduct a full fledged trial in the money laundering case, booked on the basis of the cash for jobs scam, by adducing oral and documentary evidence before the Sessions Court and the ED was ready to do so anytime now, it said.

The ED also denied the bail petitioner’s charge of it having manipulated the digital evidence in the case and said, the seized evidence such as thumb drives were in court custody all along.

Further, stating that the bail petitioner’s brother Ashok Kumar, a co-accused in the money laundering case, was still absconding, the ED urged the court to dismiss the present bail application since letting the petitioner out of prisoner “will create a further difficult situation for the witness to face influence/threat from the duo.”

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