Special Court trying PMLA case is the court empowered to hear Scheduled Offences: Calcutta High Court

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The Calcutta High Court recently held that a special court designated to hear money laundering cases under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) is the appropriate court empowered to try the scheduled offences from which the PMLA offence stemmed [Ranjit Singh Kothari vs State of West Bengal].

Single-judge Justice Tirthankar Ghosh referred to Section 44 of the PMLA and the explanations to it, which clarify what offences can be tried by the special courts.

The judge found that the legislative intention was that one and the same court would try both the PMLA offences. Therefore, the special designated court under the PMLA, being vested with the powers of a sessions court for dealing with offences under PMLA, would be empowered to try the scheduled offence as well, the Court held.

“A conjoint reading of Section 44(1)(a), Section 44(1)(c) along with Explanations (i) to the Section 44(1) makes it abundantly clear that the legislative intention was that one and same court would try both the offences and the special designated court being vested with the sessions power for dealing with offences under PMLA would try such offence,” the High Court ruled.

The Court also pointed out that the transactions and the factual foundation for both the money laundering offence and the connected scheduled offences would be the same, and a trial for either category of offence would have an impact on the other.

Therefore, a harmonious construction of the provisions could only lead to the conclusion that the special court trying offences under the PMLA would be the court which would try the scheduled offences, the Court held.

It, therefore, upheld an order passed by a Metropolitan Magistrate on March 24, 2021, to transfer a criminal case falling in the scheduled offence category to be tried along with the money laundering case registered under the PMLA.

The petitioners before the Court had challenged the March 2021 order on the ground that the law does not call for an automatic transfer of the trial in a scheduled offence just because a PMLA case was also lodged subsequently.

The accused (petitioner) was initially booked under charges of criminal conspiracy, cheating and forgery by way of five First Information Reports (FIRs) lodged in May 2011.

Subsequently, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which was investigating these cases, filed chargesheets against the petitioner and others accused in the case. Three more FIRs were lodged between 2011 to 2012.

Based on the chargesheets and the fact that the offences alleged were scheduled ones, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) lodged a money laundering case against the accused persons.

In December 2018, the ED moved an application before the Metropolitan Magistrate hearing case concerning the scheduled offences to transfer the said case to a special PMLA court. The Magistrate passed an order transferring the case.

This was objected to by the accused by way of the instant plea before the High Court.

However, Justice Ghosh found no merit in the contentions of the accused and dismissed their plea.

Advocates Ayan Bhattacherjee, Indrajit Adhikari, Amitabrata Hait and Suman Majumder appeared for the petitioners.

Advocates Vipul Kundalia, Anurag Roy and Uneaza Ali represented the ED.

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