PNB scam: Bail cannot be refused merely because offence is economic offence, says HC

Justice Bharti Dangre recently made the observation while granting bail to Vipul Chitalia, former vice president (banking operations) of Mehul Choksi promoted Gitanjali Group of Companies and an accused in the multi-crore Punjab National Bank (PNB) scam.

Urvi MahajaniUpdated: Friday, August 19, 2022, 10:40 PM IST
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PNB scam: Bail cannot be refused merely because offence is economic offence, says HC | Photo: Representative Image

Merely because the offence is in the nature of the economic offence, bail cannot be refused, observed the Bombay High Court.

Justice Bharti Dangre recently made the observation while granting bail to Vipul Chitalia, former vice president (banking operations) of Mehul Choksi promoted Gitanjali Group of Companies and an accused in the multi-crore Punjab National Bank (PNB) scam.

Justice Dangre said, “… it is not imperative that in every case of economic offences, bail should invariably be refused.”

The court also emphasised the fact that apart from the gravity of the offence, it is imperative to consider the punishment that would be imposed on the accused, if found guilty.

“The alleged offence is undisputedly in the nature of economic offence which has resulted in a loss to the State exchequer, but while considering the Bail Applications, it is not only the gravity of the charges which deserve a consideration but punishment that could be imposed after trial and continuation is also an important aspect,” said the HC, adding, “It contemplates recalibrating the scales of justice.”

The CBI arrested Chitalia in March 2018 alleging that he was responsible for handling unauthorised Letters of Undertaking (LoUs) and Foreign Letters of Credit (FLCs) and maintaining contact with the bank officials.

The court said that incarceration cannot be treated as synonymous with punishment. “Incarceration of the accused cannot be treated as synonymous with a punishment and assuming that the accused is prima facie guilty for a grave offence, bail cannot be refused in an indirect process of punishing the accused before he is convicted of the charge framed against him,” added Justice Dangre.

Chitalia’s counsels – Vijay Aggarwal and Rahul Aggarwal – had argued that he had been in custody for long. They contended that the CBI still hadn't completed its investigation and charges were yet to be framed. Only recently the CBI filed a 47-thousand-page supplementary charge sheet and said it intends to continue the investigation.

Aggarwal said that co-accused Aniyath Nair is already released on bail in the year 2018, and the role attributed to him in the charge sheet is identical to that of the applicant. Also, the CBI had not expressed that Chitalia was a flight risk if released on bail.

CBI counsel Hiten Venegaonkar opposed the bail plea contending that charges against Chitalia were more serious and that he conspired with Choksi and was his “close confidant”.

However, on a specific query from the court, the CBI counsel was unable to point out how Chitalia’s role was distinct from that of Nair, who is already out on bail.

The court also took note of the fact that Chitalia had been behind bars for more than 4 years and deserve to be set at liberty, pending the trial for the accusations faced by him. Justice Dangre said: “… he deserves his release on bail and merely because he is to face a trial in an economic offence, he cannot be robed of his liberty.”

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