Money laundering cases: Supreme Court comes down on trend of seeking bail under Article 32 in the guise of challenging PMLA validity

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The Supreme Court on Tuesday deprecated the trend of accused in money laundering cases filling Article 32 petitions before the top court directly challenging summons or seeking bail in the guise of challenging the provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA Act)

A vacation bench of Justices Bela M Trivedi and Prashant Kumar Mishra, said that petitions filed under Article 32 challenging an Act and in the process seeking consequential reliefs, amounts to bypassing other available legal remedies.

The Supreme Court had upheld the validity of the PMLA in its July 2022 judgment in Vijay Madanlal Choudhary v. Union of India.

“The Court is constrained to observe that despite the Vijay Madanlal judgment there is a trend prevailing in writ petitions filed before this Court under Article 32 challenging the constitutional validity of Sections 50 and 63 and other provisions of the PMLA ,which has been decided finally and then seek consequential relief. These reliefs are by bypassing other forums which are open to petitioners,” the Court said.

The observations came in a cases wherein two Chhattisgarh government officials implicated in the liquor/excise scam in the State, Akhtar Dhebar and Niranjan Das, moved the top court for relief while challenging the PMLA.

On Monday, while hearing connected matters, the bench had posed the question as to why it should be entertaining such matters.

Solicitor General (SG) Tushar Mehta appearing for the Enforcement Directorate (ED) had said that he has serious objections as to the maintainability of such pleas.

During the hearing today, Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi appearing for Dhebar sought to withdraw the plea, with liberty to move the High Court for bail and other relief.

The SG, however, pressed for some observations against such pleas to be recorded in the order.

“This is a new trend to file a writ challenging the constitutionality and then get a no coercive action order in effect anticipatory bail. Here in this case it has dawned upon them now. This must be deprecated in no uncertain terms. People are being approached that instead of asking for anticipatory bail.. challenge the vires of the legislation.”

Additional Solicitor General SV Raju weighed in saying,

“The practice of coming here with such repetitive pleas need to stop. There needs to be some observations. There would be a floodgate of litigation.”

Justice Trivedi agreed.

“Yes these are frivolous petitions. We could have come down heavily if it was argued on merits. But that was not the case. Is it not the responsibility of the senior counsels also to guide in such matters? There has to be some observations,” she said.

Justice Mishra added,

“This is becoming an alternate forum instead of going to the High Court under Section 438, and instead of challenging it there, you challenge the summons here in Supreme Court!”

The top court while disposing of the pleas noted that the petitioners had moved the High Court challenging the action of the ED, which was dismissed and not appealed against.

It, thus, took exception to them moving the top court directly in a separate plea for relief.

“The kind of practice that is going on here in this Court is very disturbing,” Justice Trivedi remarked as the hearing drew to a close.

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