In A major blow to Directorate of Revenue and Intelligence (DRI) the Supreme Court has upheld the discharge of Sanjay Bhandari, the alleged kingpin of the multi-crore scam involving evasion of customs duty on imported cars.
Bhandari was set free in August 2006 after a Delhi High court judgment, quashing a preventive detention order against him and ordering his release. The court had ruled that Bhandari’s detention under the Conservation of Foreign Exchange and Prevention of Smuggling Act (COFEPOSA) was “illegal and in violation of fundamental rights.”
The scam had made headlines in 2005 when DRI seized foreign luxury cars from Bollywod star Sunil Shetty and former West Bengal Chief Minster Jyoti Basu's son, Chandan Basu. The cars were allegedly purchased from Bhandari, who walked free within eight months of his arrest.
The apex court Bench headed by Justice Altamas Kabir upheld the High Court's judgment and contention that the DRI had failed to supply vital documents on the basis of which COFEPOSA was slapped on him. Supply of documents is mandatory as per the Act.
The bench said: “…Since personal liberty and individual freedom of a citizen is curtailed by an order of preventive detention, the detaining authorities must apply their minds carefully and exercise great caution in passing such an order upon being fully satisfied from materials which are both for and against the detenu.”
Referring to the case, the Bench added: “As some of the vital documents which have a direct bearing on the detention order, had not been placed before the detaining authority, there was sufficient ground for the detenu to question such omission.”
In 2005, the Finance Ministry had identified 55 foreign luxury cars that Bhandari's Delhi-based company Vacations Tours and Travels had bought, getting exemption from customs duties by taking advantage of the Export Promotion Capital Goods Scheme. However, Bhandari allegedly sold the vehicles to private persons.
In January 2006, the COFEPOSA unit dismissed his appeal. Following this he approached the HC that allowed his appeal. Challenging his release order, the Union of India moved the SC.