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SC Stands By Enforcement Directorate: What Top Court Said On ED's Powers And PMLA

The Supreme Court upheld the ED's powers relating to arrest, attach property, search and seize under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) which were challenged by multiple petitioners including Congress leader Karti Chidambaram.

Protests against ED by Congress workers
Protests against ED by Congress workers PTI

In a significant verdict on Wednesday, the Supreme Court upheld the Enforcement Directorate's (ED) powers relating to arrest, attachment of property involved in money laundering, search and seizure under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) that were challenged by multiple petitioners including Congress' Karti Chidambaram. It upheld the ED's powers relating to arrest, attachment of property involved in money laundering, and search and seizure under the PMLA. 

What did the SC say on PMLA?

The SC upheld the ED's powers relating to arrest, attach property, search and seize under PMLA that were challenged by multiple petitioners including Congress leader Karti Chidambaram, who is himself under the ED's lens for his involvement in a money laundering scam. 

The apex court held that concealment, possession, acquisition or even projecting a property connected to proceeds of crime as untainted constitutes an offence under the anti-money laundering law.

Section 3 of the Act deals with the offence of money laundering. The apex court said it is amply clear from the bare language of section 3 of PMLA that money laundering is an independent offence regarding the process or activity connected with the proceeds of crime which had been derived or obtained as a result of criminal activity relating to a scheduled offence.

While upholding the validity of certain contested provisions of PMLA, the top court said section 3 of the Act has a wider reach and captures every process and activity, direct or indirect, in dealing with proceeds of crime and is not limited to the happening of the final act of integration of tainted property in the formal economy. 

How parties reacted to the SC verdict

The government hailed the verdict with Law Minister Kiren Rijiju stating that the verdict has cleared all those efforts to create confusion and doubts by various quarters and has proved that agencies don't do anything which is illegal and unconstitutional. Defending the recent space of actions against Opposition leaders by the centrally run probe agencies including ED and CBI, Rijuju said that the SC verdict shows that the agencies are truly in the spirit of the government's intention to check corruption and punish the corrupt.

BJP president J P Nadda saying the law of the land must be respected while SC lawyers and party spokespersons Gaurav Bhatia and Nalin Kohli slammed opposition parties for their attack on its provisions. Bhatia said it was a "landmark judgement" which has upheld the ED's powers to arrest accused, search their premises and seize their assets that the probe agency believes have been acquired through proceeds of crime and money laundering.

Congress, whose top leaders including Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi are currently being questioned by the ED in connection with the National Herald money laundering case, has denounced the verdict with senior party leader Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot claiming that the verdict will lead to an increase in the possibility of "political misuse" of the ED by the Centre.

Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh also released a statement which said stated that the verdict  will have far-reaching implications for "our democracy, especially when governments are anchored in political vendetta".

Significance of SC verdict

The verdict comes in wake of several Opposition parties and leaders accusing the government of misusing the law to target them. The court was responding to a batch of  over 200 petitions filed by individuals and other entities challenging various provisions of the PMLA. 

Top opposition politicians including Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi along with P Chidambaram and his son and MP Karti, Shiv Sena's Sanjay Raut, National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's nephew Abhishek Banerjee, also a TMC MP, and Delhi minister Satyendar Jain are among those under the ED's lens for alleged money laundering.

(With inputs from PTI)

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