Money-laundering case: HC grants bail to Anil Deshmukh, calls Waze unreliable
A single-judge bench said the money credited to the bank accounts of Shri Sai Shikshan Sanstha, a Nagpur-based educational trust controlled by the Deshmukh family, were not proceeds of crime, and ordered that the 73-year-old be released on a personal bond of ₹1 lakh and one or two sureties.
The Bombay high court on Tuesday granted bail to former home minister Anil Deshmukh in the money-laundering case registered by the Enforcement Directorate (ED), saying that the statement given by dismissed assistant inspector Sachin Waze could not be relied on.
A few hours later, Deshmukh, a Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader, moved an application in the sessions court, seeking bail in the Central Bureau of Investigation’s (CBI) corruption case.
A single-judge bench of justice N J Jamadar said the money credited to the bank accounts of Shri Sai Shikshan Sanstha, a Nagpur-based educational trust controlled by the Deshmukh family, were not proceeds of crime, and ordered that the 73-year-old be released on a personal bond of ₹1 lakh and one or two sureties in the same amount.
The HC, however, stayed its own order till October 13, after the ED sought two weeks’ time to challenge the verdict in the Supreme Court.
“Evidently both the deponents [former Mumbai police commissioner Param Bir Singh and Waze] claimed to have ‘learnt or heard’ that money changed hands. These statements ex-facie cannot bear the weight of the allegation of generation of proceeds of crime out of the alleged predicate offence of exercise of influence over the transfers and postings of police officials. These statements ex-facie lack the element of certainty as to the source, time and place. They prima facie appear to be hearsay,” justice Jamadar said.
Without delving into the aspect of the alleged inconsistent statements made by Waze before the other forums, including the Justice Chandiwal Commission of enquiry, where Waze allegedly disowned everything, “in my view, the aforesaid material, prima facie, renders it unsafe to place reliance on the statement of Waze, a co-accused, that cash amount was collected and delivered to Kundan Shinde [Deshmukh’s personal assistant] at the instructions of the applicant,” the order said.
Evidently, the exercise of discretion on medical grounds is rooted in facts of a given case, he said. “In the case at hand, the court has considered the entitlement of the applicant to bail on merits as well, and found that a prima facie case for exercise of discretion is made out. As the proviso [section 45 (1) of the PMLA] empowers the court to exercise the discretion in favour of an accused who is otherwise sick or infirm, the court has considered the material on record and finds, in the totality of the circumstances, a case for exercise of the discretion under the proviso as well.”
Deshmukh was first arrested by the ED on November 2, 2021, on money-laundering charges. The ED’s case is based on the FIR registered by the CBI on April 21 that year after Singh accused him of trying to extort money from orchestra bar owners. In a letter to then chief minister Uddhav Thackeray and others on March 20, 2021, Singh alleged that Deshmukh had instructed certain police officers, including Waze, to collect ₹100 crore from the bars every month.
Waze has been arrested by the National Investigation Agency as the prime accused in the Antilia explosives scare and the subsequent murder of Thane-based car accessories shop owner Mansukh Hiran.
ED claimed that Waze called a meeting of bar owners, and between December 2020 and February 2021, collected ₹4.70 crore and handed over the “extorted money” in two instalments to Shinde. Part of the amount, according to the ED, was routed to the Nagpur trust through Delhi-based hawala operators.
The NCP leader filed a bail application in the Bombay high court on March 22, a week after the special PMLA (Prevention of Money Laundering Act) court rejected his plea.
During arguments last week, Deshmukh’s counsel Vikram Chaudhari said his client was 73 years old and was suffering from various ailments. The bench was further told that the ED had relied upon the statement of Waze who himself was an accused in seven-eight serious crimes and hence, was unreliable.
Chaudhari said though the allegation pertained to the collection of ₹100 crore, the agency could only show discrepancies of ₹1.71 crore. He also pointed out that the trial was not likely to commence any time soon and Deshmukh had already been in jail for almost a year and the maximum punishment under the PMLA was seven years.
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Deshmukh had cooperated with the investigating agency and would continue to do so after getting bail, he said. Chaudhari claimed that the case was intended to not find out the truth but to defame Deshmukh as the evidence with the ED was not of sterling quality.
The ED, represented by additional solicitor general Anil Singh, opposed the bail plea and said the offence of money laundering was considered equivalent to murder and terrorism. As there was evidence of the direct and indirect involvement of Deshmukh in laundering money, his application should be rejected, the agency said.
Singh also said that Deshmukh had laundered money through NGOs in the name of donations and as such an act was detrimental to the financial health of the country, persons accused of the offence should be strictly dealt with.
The statement of Waze was incriminating evidence to show that the applicant was involved in money laundering. Deshmukh’s claim that the statement should be relied upon at the time of trial and not for bail could not be sustained as it showed criminality and criminal activity which needed to be taken into consideration by the HC while hearing the bail application, Singh said.
He claimed that the ED was not against providing treatment and had been doing the same to Deshmukh as and when it was required and would continue to do so. There were other prisoners who were senior citizens and were granted bail on medical grounds, depending on the case they were booked in, the agency added.