The Enforcement Directorate on Monday opposed in the Delhi High Court a plea of alleged lobbyist Deepak Talwar against his detention by Indian agencies after being deported from the UAE in a money-laundering case. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told a bench of justices Siddharth Mridul and Sangita Dhingra Sehgal that some accused do not want to face the material collected against them and instead, they challenge the vires and constitutional validity of a law.
The court was hearing a habeas corpus plea moved by Talwar, challenging his detention by Indian agencies after his deportation here on January 31. The ED has alleged that Talwar, who is in its custody, acted as a middleman in negotiations to favour foreign private airlines, causing loss to national carrier Air India.
A habeas corpus petition is a writ requiring a person under arrest to be brought before a judge or in court, especially to secure his release, unless lawful grounds are shown for his detention. The Solicitor General along with central government standing counsel Amit Mahajan said if the accused is so much concerned, he should file a regular bail plea which would be heard by the court concerned on merits of the case.
The law officer also said the same issue challenging the constitutional validity of certain provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) was pending in the Supreme Court and the high court should await the final verdict of the top court. In the affidavit, filed by the ED in response to the plea, it has been stated that the constitutional validity of sections 19 (power of arrest) and 24 (burden of proof) of the PMLA were also challenged before the Delhi High Court in another matter of Rajbhushan Omprakash Dixit, which was then referred to a larger bench by a division bench as there was a difference of opinion with the judgment of another division bench of this court in the Moin Akhtar Qureshi and Vakamulla Chandra Shekhar cases.
While the matter was pending in the high court, an appeal was filed by the agency before the Supreme Court in one of the matters against an interim order and the apex court had transferred all such matters to itself. The court also observed that Talwar's counsel can move a regular bail application.
While seeking Talwar's relase from jail, his counsel said he cannot be rendered remediless, but the the court said he was not remediless. "Sanctity of the international law has to be followed. It's an extradition case and they have to follow the law. I am ex-facie in illegal custody," Talwar's counsel said.
The court listed the matter for further hearing on February 27, before when the counsel for accused has to file rejoinder to the ED's response. The ED, in its response, has said that persons involved in large-scale money laundering and serious financial frauds have made it a practice to challenge various provisions of the PMLA, including the agency's power to arrest.
It has contended that subterfuge was craftily designed by the "unscrupulous litigants" to bypass the exercise of filing a regular bail plea before the court concerned by directly seeking a habeas corpus writ or bail or anticipatory bail under the garb of challenging the constitutional validity of certain provisions of the PMLA. In his habeas corpus plea, Talwar has claimed that his arrest and custody from January 30 onwards was illegal detention. He has alleged that his fundamental rights have been violated by the authorities.
He has claimed that when he was in Dubai, a travel ban was imposed on him by a court there in a commercial dispute, due to which he could not return to India despite repeated requests. His counsel had earlier contended before the court that the Government of India had "abducted" Talwar, adding that when there was a summons for him to appear on February 4, he was picked up and there was no extradition.
He has urged quashing of the FIR against him under the PMLA and also that some provisions of the Act be declared unconstitutional and in violation of fundamental rights. The ED had earlier told 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 the Qatar Airways, Emirates and Air Arabia.
The agency had claimed that entities directly or indirectly controlled by the accused received exorbitant amounts from the 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 and February 6, 2009. Talwar has been accused of criminal conspiracy and forgery under the IPC and under various sections of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) for allegedly diverting foreign funds worth Rs 90.72 crore, 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 UPA regime is also under the scanner.
(With inputs from agencies.)