In a major blow to the Department of Revenue Intelligence (DRI), the Delhi High Court has ordered the release of Sanjay Bhandari, the alleged kingpin the multi-crore-rupees scam involving evasion of customs duty on imported cars. The court ruled that Bhandari’s detention in Tihar Jail under the stringent Conservation of Foreign Exchange and Prevention of Smuggling Act (COFEPOSA) was “illegal and in violation of fundamental rights”.
The scam had made headlines last year when DRI seized foreign luxury cars from Bollywood star Sunil Shetty and former West Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu’s son Chandan, which they allegedly bought from Bhandari.
Eight months after he was jailed, the court quashed the detention on finding that the Revenue Department of the Finance Ministry has not yet supplied to the accused the vital documents on the basis of which COFEPOSA was slapped on him. This was mandatory as per the Act.
Pulling up the DRI, a Division Bench, comprising Justices R.S. Sodhi and P.K. Bhasin, said the “non-supply of the referred to and relied upon documents despite demand by the detenue makes the detention bad as he is not in a position to challenge it effectively, and he does not get a fair hearing”.
The COFEPOSA unit of the Ministry of Finance had in January dismissed an appeal by Bhandari seeking the quashing of his detention because he could not make a proper representation before them in the absence of the documents. Following this he approached the Delhi High Court through an application filed by his wife Ranu Bhandari.
The Finance Ministry had last year 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.