‘Arbitrary, coercive’: Karti Chidambaram challenges constitutional validity of PMLA
Former Union finance minister P Chidambaram’s son and Congress MP Karti Chidambaram has challenged the constitutional validity of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) In his petition, reviewed by HT.
Chidambaram said the investigation, interrogation, raids, arrests and trials carried out by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) under this law are “arbitrary, unreasonable and coercive”. The central agency didn’t respond to HT’s email query on the matter.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) arrested Karti Chidambaram on February 28, 2018, in the INX Media case while his father and former Union finance minister P Chidambaram’s dramatic arrest took place from his Jor Bagh residence in New Delhi on August 21, 2019.
Both the CBI and the ED filed charge sheets in October 2019 and June 2020 respectively alleging irregularities in giving FIPB (foreign investment promotion board) approval to the media house and subsequent laundering crores of rupees. The ED had alleged that ₹3.09 crore were given to companies associated with Karti Chidambaram by INX Media founder Peter Mukherjea. The central agency attached several properties worth ₹54 crore belonging to Karti Chidambaram in India and abroad. Both are currently out on bail.
Kapil Sibal and Advocate Arshdeep Singh, appearing for Karti in the Supreme Court on Thursday, sought to declare the entire PMLA, as amended in 2019, as unconstitutional, ultra vires and void saying, “the entire procedure of investigation and trial under PMLA is totally arbitrary, unreasonable, fails to satisfy the principles of due process and hence violative of and unconstitutional under Articles 14, 19, 20 and 21 of the Constitution of India”. “Consequently, the whole of PMLA is liable to be declared unconstitutional and void,” the petition stated.
In his petition, reviewed by HT, Karti Chidambaram has stated the PMLA has unregulated and arbitrary procedure because “the ED doesn’t wait for predicate investigating agency to investigate the predicate crime and arrives at prime facie conclusion that an offence (relating to the predicate offence) may have been committed”.
The petition accuses the ED of not following provisions of Chapter XII of Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) saying the anti-money laundering probe agency doesn’t send the copy of the ECIR (Enforcement case Information Report) – equivalent to First Information Report (FIR) – to the trial court having jurisdiction over the case; neither is the copy of the ECIR is given to the person named in it. The petition adds the ED and its investigating officers do not maintain a case diary and while examining or arresting a person, it compels him/her to sign the statement irrespective of its accuracy, failing which the person is threatened with a penalty.
Asserting how the ED overreaches its authority under the PMLA, the petition claimed the agency doesn’t have jurisdiction to investigate a predicate offence and it can only probe ‘proceeds of crime’.
“However, in practice, the authorities under PMLA take upon themselves the jurisdiction to investigate the predicate offence and reach a conclusion whether the predicate offence has been committed or not,” it further added.
Karti Chidambaram has further challenged the procedure of attachment, adjudication and possession of properties by the ED, which he argues are done “on the belief of [ED] officer only, even when predicate offence is under investigation and no charges sheet has been filed”. Subsequently, he has argued that the ED doesn’t send any report of search and seizure to the magistrate.