Attachments up to Rs 40k-crore remain pending while key court remains headless
The country’s top court hearing cases under the money laundering law and other key laws has been headless for the past 14 months, seriously affecting its operation.
Simply called the Court of Appeal under the SAFEMA Act, the forum hears appeals from individuals and companies facing the seizure and seizure of their properties under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) by the Directorate of Enforcement (ED), the Currency Exchange Handlers and Smugglers Act (SAFEMA) and the Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS).
Worse still, it has only one member, of a four-member authorized force, and a president. This member, GC Mishra, formerly a senior bureaucrat in the law ministry, is its acting president.
People familiar with the operation of the court and the lawyers who appeared before it said that liens worth approximately Rs 30-40 billion, in hundreds of cases, are pending, significantly affecting the value of these assets.
Banks, hoping to get their money back by ditching ED-attached properties, are also suffering, the people added on condition of anonymity.
Some high-profile money laundering cases pending before the court include ED’s seizure of the properties of former Finance Minister P Chidambaram, his son Karti Chidambaram, the Sandesara brothers of Sterling Biotech Group, former Haryana OP Chief Minister Chautala, the defendant in the 2G scam and coal block case, the AgustaWestland case, the Nirav Modi bank fraud and a case involving the daughter of Rashtriya leader Janata Dal (RJD), Misa Bharti, Lalu Prasad Yadav, among others .
Most of the appeals filed in court relate to the reversal of orders from the adjudicating authority upholding liens by ED or banks. Too often ED approaches court against any court order challenging its action to seize an asset.
The court of appeal, the only body where individuals and businesses, including banks, can appeal against any seizure of property, is usually composed of a president (who is or has been a judge of the higher court or the Supreme Court ) and four members. All four members can be from the judiciary or from the Indian Revenue Service (IRS) and hold the position of Commissioner / Deputy Secretary or equivalent in the Indian Legal Service, Income Tax Department, Economics Service of India, the Indian Customs and Excise Service or the Indian Audit Service Account.
The previous chair, Judge Manmohan Singh, retired on September 21, 2019. Several people HT spoke with said Mishra has been putting off completion in most cases. “The interim president has, in days, 50-60 cases listed before him. Because he is the interim president, or perhaps because his decisions can be challenged due to not having a judicial record, he is not entering into the interpretation of the law in the PMLA or SAFEMA cases, ”said a lawyer who did not want to be called.
It is unclear why a new president has yet to be appointed. When contacted, a Finance Ministry spokesman said: “There is a case in the Supreme Court related to court appointments.” The ministry did not elaborate.
Attorney Vijay Aggarwal, who defends several high-profile defendants, including Chanda Kochhar, Ratul Puri, Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi, said: “Men are fallible, judges are men too. The right of appeal conforms to the principle of natural justice. When there is no appeal authority, this right of appeal is denied ”.
“When there are so many retired judges, why can’t the government appoint them in court? added.
Samudra Sarangi, Partner at Panag and Babu, said: – “There are several cases with billions of millions of seized assets currently pending before the appeals court. The court is overwhelmed by a large number of cases. In the absence of it operating in full force, private parties, public and private sector banks and financial institutions could face delays in the matters that are finally decided.