The Delhi high court on Thursday sought response of the Centre and the Enforcement Directorate on the bail plea of businessman Gautam Khaitan, who was arrested last month in a money laundering case related to the controversial Rs 3,600-crore VVIP chopper deal.
Justice VP Vaish issued notice to ministry of finance and Enforcement Directorate (ED) directing them to file their status report by November 7.
"Notice be issued to the respondents. They shall file the status report," the court said, adding that the reply be filed and handed over to the petitioner's counsel on November 7.
The court has now listed the matter for November 11.
Khaitan, who is presently in judicial custody, moved the high court seeking bail after a trial court on October 20 dismissed his plea saying the investigation in the case is at a "crucial stage".
Senior advocate PV Kapur and Sidharth Luthra, appearing for Khaitan, sought bail contending that he was a "soft target" and influential persons, who were also accused in the case, had not yet been arrested by ED.
The counsel also argued that his client, who is also an advocate by profession, is in custody since September 23 and it's been over 35 days since he is behind bars.
They contended that the ED has named 21 entities in the case, but till date only Khaitan has been arrested in the case.
"Till date only one (Khaitan) has been arrested and two others have been interrogated but not arrested," the counsel said, adding that former Indian Air Force chief S P Tyagi and his brothers have also been named in the case but they are still at large.
The counsel also said that Khaitan has deep roots in the society and is into a family business which is running for last 100 years, so there is no chance of his fleeing from justice and tampering with evidence in the case.
"Let them (ED and Centre) point out, why I have been kept back. During the custody also, the ED has not asked him any question," the lawyer argued.
Khaitan was arrested by the ED under the PMLA (Prevention of Money Laundering Act). The ED had lodged a case in July against Khaitan, former IAF chief SP Tyagi and 19 others in the VVIP chopper deal case to probe alleged kickbacks.
Khaitan's counsel had submitted that in a similar case, Italian court had passed a verdict exonerating two foreign nationals accused of bribery and corruption in India and in this view, the ED's allegation that he had received kickbacks now stands "eroded".
The bail plea, however, was vehemently opposed by ED, represented by Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Sanjay Jain who contended that there was a likelihood of Khaitan fleeing from justice, tampering with evidence and hampering the ongoing probe which is at a crucial stage.
ASG Jain and the central government standing counsel Ajay Digpaul informed the court that there is "damning evidence against him (Khaitan). He is a kingpin".
The agency also submitted that they have confiscated a laptop of Khaitan's employee, in which the data shows that several 1000 euros were passed into the accounts of Khaitan and his wife.
The agency said the recent judgement of the Italian court in the case acquitting former Finmeccanica CEO Giuseppe Orsi and ex-AgustaWestland head Bruno Spagnolini of corruption charges does not have any bearing here in the probe into a money-laundering matter.
The Italian court had on October 9 acquitted Orsi and Spagnolini of graft charges in the chopper deal with India. They, however, were sentenced to a two-year jail term on lesser charges of falsification of invoices.
ED also alleged that Khaitan was "actively involved" in the illegal transactions relating to proceeds of crime and he was one of the beneficiaries of the entire deal.
Earlier, the ED before the lower court had alleged the agency was probing the case in which 70 million Euros were paid as "kickbacks" and it was investigating the money trail and also the proceeds of crime.
The ED had submitted that Khaitan was one of the directors in Chandigarh-based company Aeromatrix, which is allegedly a front firm for the financial dealings in VVIP helicopters deal and he resigned from the post after the Italian police started its probe.
According to CBI and other agencies, they had detected that funds for the particular deal were allegedly routed through this firm and few others.
The ED had said a reference to Khaitan was also reportedly made in Italian prosecutor's report filed in a court there.
The CBI had earlier questioned him in this case. The ED had registered a case in this deal under PMLA, nearly a year after the CBI filed its case.
The ED has booked SP Tyagi, his family members, European nationals Carlo Gerosa, Christian Michel and Guido Haschke, four companies-- Italy-based Finmeccanica, UK-based AgustaWestland and Chandigarh-based IDS Infotech and Aeromatrix, two companies based in Mauritius and Tunisia -- a few other firms and unknown persons in its criminal complaint.
The supply of 12 VVIP helicopters from AgustaWestland came under the scanner after the Italian authorities alleged that bribe was paid by the company to clinch the deal.
The Italian prosecutor, who carried out the preliminary inquiry, alleged the CEO of Finmeccanica, the parent company of UK-based AgustaWestland, had allegedly used the services of middlemen to bribe Indian officials.