Supreme Court seeks ED’s response to Senthilbalaji’s plea against its power to take him into custody

A third judge of the Madras High Court had confirmed that the time spent by Mr. Senthilbalaji in private medical care would be excluded from the 15-day police remand allowed to the ED

Updated - July 26, 2023 12:12 pm IST

Published - July 21, 2023 01:56 pm IST

V. Senthilbalaji. File.

V. Senthilbalaji. File. | Photo Credit: Siva Saravanan S.

The Supreme Court on Friday sought a response from the Enforcement Directorate to a plea by Tamil Nadu Minister V. Senthilbalaji challenging the central agency’s power to take him into custody for interrogation in connection with money laundering charges related to the cash for jobs scam.

A Bench of Justices AS Bopanna and MM Sundresh scheduled the case for hearing on July 26 ar 2 pm even as Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said the Minister may have been trying to “avoid the investigation”

Also read: Explained | Senthilbalaji case: What has the SC said about ED’s powers to arrest and seek custody in the past?

“It is not only my right to investigate him, but my duty too… never mind he feigns illness or not,” Mr. Mehta submitted.

Mr. Senthilbalaji was arrested on June 14 and a Chennai court had remanded him into Enforcement Directorate (ED) custody for interrogation. But Mr. Senthilbalaji was suddenly taken ill and eventually shifted to a private hospital where he underwent a bypass surgery. He is recuperating.

Justice Bopanna said that people may get sick due to anxiety.

“But sometimes the stakes are so high that it is easier to undergo a bypass surgery than undergo investigation,” Mr. Mehta replied.

“Sometimes the stakes are so high that you [ED] bypass the law,” senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the Minister, shot back.

Mr. Sibal, assisted by advocate Amit Anand Tiwari, argued that the Supreme Court, in the past, had held that ED officers were not police officers and had no right to seek his custody.

Mr. Mehta said the very purpose of an arrest was to question the accused. The ED should not be thwarted from doing its job. He argued that the period spent by Mr. Senthilbalaji in private medical care should be excluded from the remand period.

A Division Bench of the Madras High Court had given a split verdict on this issue on July 4. Subsequently, a third judge had ruled in favour of the ED’s power of custody.

The Minister has argued that the ED cannot keep an accused in custody for more than 24 hours. Unlike “enforcement officers” under the Customs Act or the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act or the Central Goods and Service Tax law, ED officers did not enjoy the “deemed fiction” of having the same powers as a police officer, his petition contended.

It further claimed that the “power to investigate an accused can be exercised even while he is in judicial custody and does not mandate police remand”.

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