Travelling abroad is a right unless accused likely to abscond; why was LOC issued against Abhishek Banerjee? Supreme Court to ED

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The Supreme Court on Monday reiterated that citizens have a right to travel abroad, especially for medical reasons [Abhishek Banerjee and anr vs Directorate of Enforcement].

A bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Sudhanshu Dhulia, therefore, questioned the Enforcement Directorate (ED) on whether there was a need to issue a look-out-circular (LOC) against Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader, Abhishek Banerjee.

The Court made the observation while hearing a batch of pleas concerning summons issued by the ED to various political leaders, requiring them to come for interrogation to Delhi.

The Court today pointed out that when central probe agencies issue look-out notices or LOCs to restrict travel unnecessarily, it leads to multiplicity of proceedings.

The Court proceeded to question why such a look out notice was being issued against Banerjee and his wife.

“You are examining him (Abhishek Banerjee) for one year? Investigation is pending, you call him as and when required. On what basis do you issue a look-out notice? Travelling abroad is also a right unless a person is going to abscond. Why do you create multiplicity of proceedings unnecessarily? Why was it required, and what has to be done ultimately?” Justice Kaul asked the ED.

Additional Solicitor General (ASG) SV Raju, who appeared for the ED, responded by saying that he would require more instructions in the matter. The bench the proceeded to adjourn the case till Friday.

“We only want to know if the look-out notice is issued qua the petitioners, and why they should not be allowed to travel abroad for medical treatment,” the Court noted in its order.

Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the Banerjees, told the Court that the couple had to travel abroad for medical reasons for a month. He added that the couple had travelled abroad earlier and returned without impeding the probe against them.

However, Sibal submitted that the ED was not responding to their requests for foreign travel. Rather, the ED was relying on a look-out notice reportedly issued against the couple to stall their request for travel, Sibal added.

The matter will be heard next on July 28.

In May last year, the Supreme Court had allowed Banerjee and his wife to be interrogated at the ED’s Kolkata Office.

This was after the couple moved the top Court against a Delhi High Court order dismissing their challenge to an ED summons in connection with its investigation into a high-profile coal mining scam in West Bengal.

Another plea before the Supreme Court was filed by K Kavitha, daughter of Telangana Chief Minister, K Chandrashekar Rao. The Supreme Court had, in March, refused to grant any interim relief to the Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) leader in relation to summons issued by the ED in the Delhi excise policy scam case.

Another petition pending before the top court is by Nalini Chidambaram, which was filed in relation to the ED’s probe into the Saradha Chit fund scam.

These pleas by K Kavitha and Nalini Chidambaram raised questions on the issue of whether a woman can be summoned for questioning to another city on short notice.

ASG Raju today argued that these pleas were now infructuous.

He, therefore, asked the Supreme Court to take on record his statement that the accused would only be summoned for questioning as and when needed, and with ten days’ notice.

The bench today adjourned this batch of cases till Friday after taking the said statement on record.

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