The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to interrogate Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader Abhishek Banerjee and his wife Rujira Banerjee in Kolkata instead of Delhi.
A bench of Justices UU Lalit, S Ravindra Bhat and Sudhanshu Dhulia said the ED has to give at least 24 hours prior notice to the couple before interrogation and simultaneously a notice shall be issued to the Commissioner of Police and Chief Secretary of Kolkata.
The Supreme Court in an interim order stayed Delhi High Court March 11 order by which Banerjees' pleas against the issuance of summons by the ED were dismissed.
The Court said it would not tolerate any kind of obstruction and interference by state machinery if ED interrogates the Banerjees in Kolkata.
The apex court also issued notice to the ED on Banerjees' appeal against the High Court order and sought a response within three weeks and posted the matter for hearing on July 19.
The State of West Bengal assured the Supreme Court that complete assistance shall be rendered by West Bengal to ED officials.
In case there is any interference, the ED shall approach the vacation court of the apex court, said the SC.
The West Bengal government has assured that in case any complaint is filed against ED officials no coercive action will be initiated, noted SC in its order.
The ED is conducting the investigation in a money-laundering probe, linked to an alleged coal scam in West Bengal, in which the agency had issued summons to the Banerjee couple.
Abhishek Banerjee, the nephew of TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee, had told the apex court that he is ready to be probed by the ED in Kolkata.
The Banerjees have challenged the summons issued to them by the ED for appearance here in connection with the money laundering probe linked to an alleged coal scam in West Bengal
They have requested the top court to quash the summons and restrain the ED from seeking their presence for questioning in Delhi. They pleaded that they can be questioned by the ED at Kolkata and sought a stay on High Court's order.
The petitioners have asked the apex court to decide whether the ED can assume pan-India jurisdiction to summon persons from anywhere to Delhi.
"Whether the Respondent can assume pan-India jurisdiction to summon any person at the place of their choice, while exercising powers under Section 50 PMLA?," the plea questioned while adding that High Court has failed to appreciate that the couple is permanent residents of Kolkata and the entire alleged cause of action and the place of the alleged offence, is in the State of West Bengal.
The search and seizure operations recorded in the FIR/RC took place in West Bengal wherein allegedly stolen coal was recovered and all the accused persons named in the FIR/RC are permanent residents of West Bengal, it added.
Approaching the top court, Banerjee said he belongs to TMC and was a leading figure in keenly contested Assembly Elections in the West Bengal in April/May 2021 (around the same time when the FIR was registered) wherein his party trounced the political party at power in the Centre, and "thereby giving justifiable cause to "target" and "fix" the Petitioner no.1 (Banerjee) by misusing the Central Investigation Agencies".
The contention of the petitioners is that this entire case against them is nothing but a political witch-hunt and cannot be brushed away lightly as done in the impugned order (of the High Court).
The plea further stated that the High Court order is "misconceived, erroneous and deserves to be set aside".
The High Court had dismissed Banerjees' plea who had challenged the September 10, 2021 summons issued to them and had sought direction to the ED not to summon them for their appearance in Delhi since they are residents of West Bengal.
The 34-year-old MP represents the Diamond Harbour seat in Lok Sabha and is the national general secretary of the TMC.
The ED lodged a case under the provisions of the PMLA based on a November 2020 FIR registered by the CBI that alleged a multi-crore coal pilferage scam related to Eastern Coalfields Ltd mines in the state's Kunustoria and Kajora areas in and around Asansol.
Al ocal coal operative Anup Majee is alleged to be the prime suspect in the case. The ED had claimed that the TMC MP was a beneficiary of funds obtained from this illegal trade. Banerjee has denied all charges