The Delhi High Court Tuesday sought ED's response on a plea by alleged lobbyist Deepak Talwar challenging his detention by Indian agencies after he was deported from the UAE last week in connection with a money laundering case. The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has alleged that Talwar, who is in its custody, acted as middleman in negotiations to favour foreign private airlines causing the loss to national carrier Air India.
A bench of Justices Siddharth Mridul and Sangita Dhingra Sehgal issued notice to the ED and directed it to file a response to the petition by February 11. The court listed the matter for further hearing on February 12. In his habeas corpus petition, Talwar claimed that his arrest and custody from January 30 onwards was illegal detention for which affirmative orders deserve to be passed to secure his personal life and liberty.
He alleged that his fundamental rights have been grossly violated by the authorities. "He has been illegally picked up from a foreign country and brought to India without initiating any extradition proceedings despite the fact that there exists an extradition treaty between India and the said foreign country, i.e. UAE," the petition said, adding that he was not even given an opportunity to comply with the summons issued by the ED in the proceedings.
It claimed that when Talwar was in Dubai, a travel ban was imposed in him by a court in Dubai in a commercial dispute due to which he could not return to India despite repeated requests. Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Talwar, contended before the that his client was picked up from Dubai and handed over to Indian authorities.
"Government of India abducted my client. More so when there was summons for him to appear on February 4. There was no extradition and they picked him up," he argued. The ED was represented by Central government standing counsel Amit Mahajan who sought time to respond to the plea.
"It is pertinent to mention that no extradition procedure or procedure known to law was followed while picking up the petitioner from Dubai/UAE and he has been practically abducted/ kidnapped by unknown agencies claiming to be Indian law enforcement authorities in collusion with Dubai authorities," the petition said. It said no reasons for arrest were furnished to him at the time of deportation and added that he be released from the illegal custody of ED and the proceedings emanating from the FIR be quashed.
A habeas corpus petition is a writ requiring a person under arrest to be brought before a judge or into court, especially to secure his release unless lawful grounds are shown for their detention. Talwar, who is in ED custody, was deported from Dubai on January 30 and was arrested by the agency after landing here.
He has sought quashing of the FIR against him in the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) and also to declare some provisions of the Act as unconstitutional and in violation of fundamental rights. ED had earlier said before a trial court that it needed to interrogate Talwar to get the names of officials of the Ministry of Civil Aviation, National Aviation Company of India Ltd and Air India, who favoured foreign airlines, including Qatar Airways, Emirates and Air Arabia.
The agency had claimed entities directly or indirectly controlled by the accused received exorbitant amounts from Qatar Airways, Emirates and Air Arabia and submitted a chart of total USD 60.54 million received by firms directly or indirectly owned by Talwar between April 23, 2008 to February 6, 2009. He has been accused for the offences of criminal conspiracy and forgery under the IPC and under various other sections of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) for allegedly diverting Rs 90.72 crore worth of foreign funds meant for ambulances and other articles received by his NGO from Europe's leading missile manufacturing company.
His role in some aviation deals during the previous Congress-led United Progressive Alliance's (UPA) regime at the Centre is under the scanner as well. Talwar was booked by the ED and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in criminal cases of corruption, while the Income Tax Department charged him with tax evasion.
(With inputs from agencies.)