ED asks Centre for 300% more staff as cases rise

Updated on Nov 29, 2022 05:16 AM IST

The Enforcement Directorate (ED), which has taken up over twice as many money laundering cases in the past three years (2,723 from 2019-20 to 2021-22) as compared to the previous seven (1,262 from 2012-13 to 2018-19), has asked the Centre to increase its strength by three times and establish offices in every state capital, people familiar with the matter said.

Enforcement Directorate. (File Photo)
Enforcement Directorate. (File Photo)
ByNeeraj Chauhan and Rajeev Jayaswal, New Delhi

The Enforcement Directorate (ED), which has taken up over twice as many money laundering cases in the past three years (2,723 from 2019-20 to 2021-22) as compared to the previous seven (1,262 from 2012-13 to 2018-19), has asked the Centre to increase its strength by three times and establish offices in every state capital, people familiar with the matter said.

ED, which also looks at foreign exchange law violations, took up 11,420 of these cases in the last three years as compared to 13,473 in the previous seven, according to data provided in the Lok Sabha by Union minister of state for finance Pankaj Chaudhary.

The agency recently sent a detailed proposal for its cadre restructuring, seeking to treble its workforce from the current 2,100 officers to 6,000, to the department of revenue (DoR) under the Union ministry of finance, the people added, asking not to be identified. The actual strength of ED is currently around 1,700, which includes all ranks at the top as well as assistant directors, enforcement officers, clerks, sepoys, multi-tasking staff, and stenographers.

ED has also sought to open a zonal office in every state capital; and two in some big states such as Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan. It currently operates through 21 zonal and 18 subzonal offices across five regions – West, East, Central,South and North, apart from specialized Headquarters Investigation Units (HIUs) and Special Task Forces (STF).

Also read: ED, IT torturing people in name of questioning & raids: Chhattisgarh CM Baghel

The finance ministry and DoR, under which ED works, did not respond to an email query, but officials confirmed that the agency’s proposal was under consideration.

ED’s proposal comes against the backdrop of the Supreme Court, in July reiterating its wide powers sanctioned under the 2002 Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA). Ratifying the agency’s powers to summon individuals, make arrests, conduct raids, and attach properties, the top court justified its special powers to tackle the “heinous” offence of money laundering.

Citing the rise in high-value money laundering cases, cybercrimes involving cryptocurrency, and movement of funds by terrorists and white collar criminals through various channels within India and abroad, a senior government official said : “Although India has a robust legislative framework and administrative setup to prevent all types of crimes, the nature of financial crimes has undergone a sea change because of the digital revolution, which is often anonymous, borderless, and instant. Hence, ED cadre needs to be strengthened with proper training on latest technology and they should placement in various parts of the country.”

“It is true that the work of ED has increased considerably in recent years. Nature of work has also changed due to changing nature of economic crimes. Under these circumstanced, the agency is well within its right to seek more staff to have both qualitatively and quantitatively edge,” another person in government said, adding that a final call is up to the finance ministry. Both officials asked not to be named.

If the proposal is accepted by the government, and ED’s actual strength is approved to 6,000 men, the financial crimes probe agency will be as large as the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which currently has a working strength of 5,800.

An ED officer who asked not to be named said that the agency primarily needs enforcement officers (EOs) and assistant enforcement officers (AEOs) who are crucial to most investigations.

Over the last few years, ED has aggressively gone after businessmen, politicians and companies involved in money laundering . Its frenetic activity has attracted charges of witch hunting by opposition leaders, some of whom were also part of the suit in the Supreme Court challenging its powers under PMLA. Its chief, Sanjay Kumar Mishra, was earlier this month given another extension, which will give him a total of five years at the helm of the agency. “In the recent past, the work of ED has increased considerably both qualitatively and quantitatively. Investigations have commenced in several high-profile cases with positive results in terms of attachment and confiscation of proceeds of crime related to bank fraud, corruption, drugs and human trafficking and terror financing etc. We believe that the ultra-rich create corporate structures across various foreign jurisdictions to transfer unaccounted funds and delay investigations in case the law catches up with them, so we need more hands to accelerate our probes and file charge sheets,” said the second ED officer.

According to the data shared by Union minister of state for finance, Pankaj Chaudhary , ED registered 3,555 PMLA cases between April 2014 and March this year, out of a total of 5,422 cases registered till date. Of these, the highest (1,180) were registered in 2021-22.

ED has sent at least 30 extradition requests to various countries for 23 individuals who fled the country after committing frauds or anti-national activities. On ED’s request, red notices have been issued against 19 fugitives by the Interpol.

Also read: ED files charge sheet against businessman in excise probe

PMLA was enacted in 2002 and implemented on July 1, 2005 while FEMA was enacted in 1999 after repealing the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act (FERA) of 1973.

Enforcement has made requests for publishing of Red Corner Notice (RCN) in respect of 34 persons, out of which it has been published in respect of 19 persons.

Former ED director Karnal Singh said: “ED is the only agency which is authorized to investigate money laundering and there are so many cases. It currently has a strength of little more than 2,000 men. Even if we take the (current) full manpower, with the increase of workload, they are not able to handle all the cases. The entire process involves investigation, attaching the properties, carrying out investigation in foreign jurisdictions, recovery of assets, and following up on extraditions. So, it definitely requires more personnel.”

ED is investigating the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper kickbacks case, in which it has filed about half a dozen charge sheets and got British middleman Christian Michel extradited from the UAE. It has aggressively traced the properties of fugitive economic offenders, Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi, and Mehul Choksi, in countries such as the UK, France, the US, and achieved success in getting extradition orders against Mallya and Nirav Modi in London. While Nirav Modi has challenged the decision, Mallya is still in the UK on account of his application for asylum.

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