In ambulance scam, tribunal pans ED for ‘imaginary’ Rs 24 crore figure
The high-profile case was originally registered by Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in August 2015 on a reference from then Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje.Updated: Sep 20, 2019 13:28 IST
A Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) tribunal in Delhi has criticised the Enforcement Directorate (ED) for coming up with an “imaginary” and “concocted” figure of Rs 23.92 crore as the loss in a scheme involving an ambulance service in Rajasthan in which state chief minister Ashok Gehlot, deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot, and former Union minister P Chidambaram’s son Karti Chidambaram, a member of Parliament, were named as accused in 2015.
The high-profile case was originally registered by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in August 2015 on a reference from then Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje. Naming Gehlot, Pilot, Karti Chidambaram, former state health minister AA Khan alias Duru Miya and a private company, Ziqitza Healthcare Ltd (ZHL) , and its directors, including Ravi Krishna (son of former Union minister Vyalar Ravi), as accused in the first information report (FIR), CBI alleged that the state was cheated in the operation of the 108 ambulance service between 2010 and 2013.
Interestingly, the federal investigation agency did not name Gehlot, Pilot and Karti Chidambaram in its charge sheet filed in June 2018 and mentioned that there was a “loss to government” of Rs 62 lakh.
ED, which launched a simultaneous probe, claimed in its charge sheet, filed on July 2018 that the scheme also involved money laundering of Rs 23.92 crore and attached properties worth Rs 11.88 crore, including fixed deposits and bank guarantees of ZHL in State Bank of Patiala and Dhanalaxmi Bank. The chairman of PMLA appellate tribunal, justice Manmohan Singh, hearing pleas of State Bank of India and Dhanlaxmi Bank as well as ZHL, seeking that the FDs and bank guarantees be released so that banks could recover dues from the company, said in his judgment on September 12: “The attachment (by ED) is not sustainable, (is) without application of mind and very harsh. There is no material on record that the banks have any nexus and link with other appellants (referring to ZHL and its directors)”.
It also added that ZHL is liable to pay only Rs 62 lakh while “rest of the attachment stands released”.
“In the present case, ED has failed to establish any foundational fact… CBI has stated that the loss to government is only Rs 62,74,858 (Rs 62.7 lakh) which is nowhere close to the imaginary and concocted figure of Rs 23,92,34,724 (Rs 23.9 crore) as alleged by ED. Therefore whole case of ED falls to the ground as the whole case proceeded on the figure of Rs 23.92 crore approximately, which in reality as on today is nothing but an imaginary figure, without any basis.”
Asserting that ED failed to even establish that there was any money laundering, Singh said: “The ED has failed to give any findings as to whether the property in question is ‘ascribable’ to money laundering or not. The ED appellate authority (which confirms an attachment) is required to show that was substantially probable cause to form opinion that the property under attachment is ‘proceeds of crime’. The ED has failed to establish that the decision is well thought, well reasoned and has been issued on the basis of the material gathered during the course of investigation carried out under the provisions of PMLA.”
It said that the banks here are victims and they cannot be asked to wait for their dues till the trial is over. “Where such loan is given out by innocent parties, being banks in this case, then it would be absurd that the securities of banks are not available to them to recover their losses. Any order which goes against the banks would create chaos in banking and be against the interest of the nation as whole and would be against the public money,” Singh observed.
The tribunal also came down heavily on ED’s attitude, saying the agency didn’t comply with its orders, didn’t provide it with the prosecution complaint (charge sheet) even after a year of filing it and that the agency’s investigating officer (IO) wasn’t present in the court despite repeated reminders.
An Enforcement Directorate spokesperson could not be reached for comment. An officer in the agency also did not respond to a text message seeking comment.
State Congress spokesperson Archana Sharma said the “baseless” lies have fallen flat on the ground. “This has unveiled their [Bharatiya Janata Party’s] vindictive propaganda that they dub as their truth. BJP’s claims on unfounded evidences have been snubbed by the court,” she said
First Published: Sep 20, 2019 03:12 IST