Updated March 20th, 2024 at 20:55 IST

Excise ‘Scam’: HC Seeks ED’s Stand on Arvind Kejriwal’s Plea Against Summonses

The Delhi High Court asked Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Wednesday why is he not appearing before the Enforcement Directorate (ED) for questioning in an excise policy-linked money-laundering case.

Excise ‘Scam’: HC Seeks ED’s Stand on Arvind Kejriwal’s Plea Against Summonses | Image:Republic
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New Delhi: The Delhi High Court asked Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Wednesday why is he not appearing before the Enforcement Directorate (ED) for questioning in an excise policy-linked money-laundering case, as it sought the agency's stand on the AAP leader's plea challenging the summonses issues against him.

"Why don't you appear on receiving the summonses? What is preventing you not to attend?" asked the bench headed by Justice Suresh Kumar Kait.

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The bench, also comprising Justice Manoj Jain, noted that the first summons was issued in October last year and said before anything else, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader is a citizen of the country.

Senior advocate Abhishek Singhvi, representing the petitioner in the matter, said his client would appear before the ED but protection from coercive action is required because of the agency's "clear intent" to apprehend him when elections are around the corner.

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Kejriwal has moved the court in the wake of the latest summons, the ninth issued by the ED, asking him to appear before it on Thursday (March 21).

The AAP leader has repeatedly refused to appear before the agency, calling the summonses illegal.

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The court said arrest on the "first or second day" is not the "normal practice" as an investigating agency first records the reasons to do so, if grounds are made out.

Citing the arrests of AAP leaders Sanjay Singh and Manish Sisodia in the matter, the senior lawyer, however, claimed that a "new style" of functioning is in place now.

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"I will appear. I will answer the questionnaire, but there is a protection that is required. I am not avoiding it. I am not running away from you. I will come myself but I need protection, no coercive steps," Singhvi said.

"I am not a common criminal. Where can I run? Can anyone have roots in the society more than me?" he asked the bench.

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Singhvi also contended that the ED has asked Kejriwal to appear before it, without even clarifying if he is an accused or a suspect or witness in the matter.

The court said he would get to know his status if he appears pursuant to the summonses and also asked why has he not taken appropriate legal action if he is anticipating arrest.

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"You received the first summons on October 30. We have seen your reply and you have given several reasons, including that Diwali festivities are around the corner. And now, we are on to the next festival, elections. So this would go on," the court said.

"Before anything else, you are a citizen of the country, the summons is by name," it added.

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The ED said the petition of the AAP national convenor, which also challenges certain provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), was not maintainable and opposed the issuance of a formal notice.

The bench granted two weeks to the agency to file its reply on this aspect.

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Additional Solicitor General S V Raju, appearing in the court on behalf of the ED, said the issue of constitutional validity of PMLA provisions has already been settled by the Supreme Court and there cannot be any stay when there is a presumption with respect to such validity.

Singhvi said the petition raises several issues, including whether a political party is covered by the anti-money laundering law.

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In the petition, Kejriwal has contended that an arbitrary procedure under the PMLA is being employed to create a non-level-playing field for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls to "skew the electoral process in favour of the ruling party at the Centre".

The petition says Kejriwal is a "vocal critic" of the ruling party, an opposition leader and a partner in the INDIA bloc and the ED, being under the Centre's control, has been "weaponised".

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"The impugned summonses dated 26.02.2024 and 16.03.2024 were sent to the petitioner with an oblique motive to arrest the petitioner. That the investigation in the present matter is going on since 22.08.2022 i.e the last one-and-a-half years, and after investigation, as many as six prosecution complaints with thousands of documents stand filed.

"All necessary documents/information are already in possession of the respondent and summoning the petitioner 'in person' is therefore a ploy to illegally arrest the petitioner and the present matter is a clear case of malice," the petition says.

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Besides seeking to declare sections 19, 45 and 50 of the PMLA, which deal with arrest, questioning and grant of bail, as unconstitutional, the petition also prays for quashing and setting aside of all proceedings, including the summonses, against Kejriwal in the capacity of the national convenor of a political party or as the chief minister or in any other capacity in the ED case.

The case pertains to alleged corruption and money laundering in formulating and executing the Delhi government's excise policy for 2021-22, which was later scrapped.

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AAP leaders Sisodia and Singh are in judicial custody in the case.

Kejriwal's name has been mentioned multiple times in the chargesheets filed by the ED. The agency has alleged that the accused were in touch with Kejriwal for formulating the excise policy that resulted in undue benefits for them, in return for which they paid kickbacks to the AAP.

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A Delhi court granted bail to Kejriwal on Saturday on two complaints filed by the ED against him for skipping six of the previous eight summonses in the money-laundering case.

The matter would next be heard on April 22. 

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Published March 20th, 2024 at 20:06 IST