New Delhi: The Delhi High Court directed ED on Wednesday not to take any coercive steps till next Tuesday against Ratul Puri, nephew of Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath, in a money laundering case linked to the AgustaWestland Chopper scam.
Justice Sunil Gaur said the Enforcement Directorate is at liberty to direct Puri to join further investigation.
The court granted him interim protection till 20 August, when it would further hear Puri’s plea challenging a trial court’s order denying him anticipatory bail.
“In the peculiarity of this case, it is deemed appropriate to call upon the respondent (ED) not to take any coercive steps against petitioner, with liberty to ED to direct Kamal Nath’s nephew to join further investigation, if required,” the court said in its four-page order.
The court also asked the ED to file a status report apprising it about the development in the money laundering case linked to the now scrapped, Rs 3,600 crore AgustaWestland Chopper deal after Puri was denied anticipatory bail last week.
The court said the status report should explain “the exact role of petitioner (Puri) in (alleged) money laundering which is detected so far”.
The court also asked the ED the reason for seeking his custodial interrogation.
Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi and lawyer Vijay Aggarwal, appearing for Kamal Nath’s nephew, submitted that he be given interim protection till the next date of hearing as he apprehends arrest and sought anticipatory bail on the ground that he was cooperating in the investigation.
The plea was vehemently opposed by Additional Solicitor General Aman Lekhi and advocate Ajay Digpaul, representing ED, who said that a non-bailable warrant was issued against Puri on 9 August and he was absconding and not joining the investigation in the case.
The high court asked ED to file a status report explaining the extent of attachment of properties relating to Kamal Nath’s nephew under the Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Act and value of the properties attached by the Income Tax Department.
During the hearing, Puri’s counsel said his name does not appear in the prosecution complaint (charge sheet) filed in November 2014; even the next four supplementary charge sheets did not find any mention of his name.
It is only in the fifth charge sheet, filed in May 2019, his name got mentioned and that he was under investigation in the case, the counsel said.
He also said the ED has recorded Puri’s statements under Section 50 of the PMLA but were not supplied to him. He has also challenged it and the High Court has already reserved order on the plea.
The ASG said the agency can provide the statements of to the court but not to Puri and he does not have a right to get these documents under the law.
Puri, a businessman, is an accused in a money laundering case related to the now scrapped Rs 3,600 crore AgustaWestland chopper deal.
The trial court had on 9 August issued non-bailable warrant against Puri on ED’s plea.
According to ED, Puri has not been joining the investigation since he was granted interim protection by court on 27 July on his application for anticipatory bail, which was later dismissed on 6 August.
ED said he did not join the probe on 29, 30, 31 July and further on 6 and 7 August, nor was he accessible on phone or at his residence and that his whereabouts were not known.
The case pertains to alleged irregularities in the purchase of 12 VVIP choppers from Italy-based Finmeccanica’s British subsidiary AgustaWestland. The deal was scrapped by the NDA government in 2014 over the alleged breach of contractual obligations and charges of payment of kickbacks for securing the deal.
According to the ED, Puri’s role surfaced after deportation of another AgustaWestland case accused Rajeev Saxena on 31 January from the UAE and the arrest of Sushen Mohan Gupta, an alleged defence agent.
Saxena has turned approver in the court and is out on bail.
It said the investigation showed Puri’s foreign entities received proceeds of crime directly from Interstellar Technologies Limited, an accused company, and he had received funds from both the chains of money laundering involved in the matter.
It said the probe has further revealed that Puri, using shell companies in the name of others, accumulated proceeds of crime which have been parked and later laundered to reach the desired beneficiaries including him.
As per ED, the proceeds of crime have been deposited in the accounts of different companies owned by the accused and he is a key link to unearth the modus operandi adopted by other accused persons and to determine last mile connectivity of the proceeds of crime in the case.
The agency claimed that Puri has also received proceeds of crime from channel of another alleged middleman Christian Michel James.