Sandesara bothers offer to repay ₹900 cr, wants CBI to end criminal proceedings
A Supreme Court bench, headed by justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, observed that when Union government has been unsuccessfully chasing several fugitives across the globe without being able to retrieve any money, it should be responsive when an accused is ready to repay a substantial sum.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the Union government about the criminal proceedings that can be quashed if Chetan Jayantilal Sandesara and Nitin Sandesara, promoters of Sterling Biotech Ltd who fled the country after being booked by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in a multi-core bank fraud case, pay back around ₹1,500 crore.
A bench, headed by justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, observed that when Union government has been unsuccessfully chasing several fugitives across the globe without being able to retrieve any money, it should be responsive when an accused is ready to repay a substantial sum.
“After all, these are offences involving money. These are not offences involving bodily injuries. The government should look at offers of repayment positively. If some proceedings can be brought to an end by paying back money, why should there be an insistence on continuing with everything without getting any money?” said the bench, which also comprises justice MM Sundresh.
“You (government) are chasing people all across the globe without getting any money. So, when you are getting a substantial sum, there has to be something that you should be willing to put an end to,” the court told additional solicitor general SV Raju, who appeared for the CBI.
The bench was hearing a plea filed by promoters of the Gujarat-based pharma company who fled to Nigeria in 2018 after CBI booked them in a multi-core bank fraud case.
In their plea before the court, the Sandesara brothers submitted that the CBI chargesheet put the defrauded amount at ₹1,500-odd crore, of which ₹600 crore has already been repaid by them to banks.
They offered to pay the outstanding amount -- a little over ₹900 crore -- within three months, provided the CBI agrees to quash the criminal case against the two.
Sandesaras’ plea also sought an end to all related criminal proceedings by the Enforcement Directorate and the Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO) under the black money law, besides withdrawal of lookout circulars and arrest warrants against them.
ASG Raju opposed their plea, emphasising that the accused were being investigated for one of the biggest economic scams in the country and that the total fraud amount was could actually be around ₹14,000 crore. Highlighting that there were several criminal proceedings pending against them, Raju added that Sandesaras does not deserve any indulgence by the court after they chose not to join the investigation and fled the country to evade the legal process.
Appearing for Sandesaras, senior advocate Vikram Chaudhri submitted that the CBI’s own chargesheet mentioned the fraud amount as ₹1,533 crores and therefore, the sword of criminal case should not hang over his clients when they are willing to pay back that amount. He added that their assets worth ₹28,000 crore was with the ED, whose sole intention has been to ensure that his clients are thrown behind bars.
At this, the bench told Raju: “You are concerned only with your chargesheet which talks about ₹1500 crore. If he brings back that kind of money, what is there that the government is willing to do? Put it to the government and come out with something reasonable.”
“Facilitate them to come back. We are not whitewashing all offences but there has to be a reasonable response. The question is what are the proceedings that can be brought to an end if they bring in ₹1,000 crore. What are the concessions that can be given? We are concerned about criminal proceedings. Rest of the proceedings can go on,” added the bench.
The court then fixed the next hearing in the case on March 8.
The CBI, in October 2017, booked Sterling Biotech, its directors Chetan, Nitin, Dipti Chetan Sandesara, Rajbhushan Omprakash Dixit, and Vilas Joshi, chartered accountant Hemant Hathi, former Director of Andhra Bank Anup Prakash Garg and some unidentified persons in connection with the alleged bank fraud between 2004-2012.
ED initiated a money laundering probe into the case, after taking cognisance of the case registered by CBI. The lookout circulars against the brothers were opened in August 2017.