ED tells SC: Chhattisgarh High Court judge in touch with accused
The Enforcement Directorate on Monday told the Supreme Court that it was in possession of incriminating material showing contact between a sitting judge of Chhattisgarh High Court and a key accused in a money-laundering case linked to an alleged food procurement scam in 2015.
A Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice of India U.U. Lalit asked solicitor-general Tushar Mehta, appearing on behalf of the ED, to place before it in a sealed cover the alleged records on the Chhattisgarh High Court judge’s conversation with one of the accused.
The Nagrik Apurti Nigam scam in the state allegedly involves large-scale irregularities in the procurement and transportation of rice and other foodgrains by officials associated in the state public distribution system. It was unearthed in 2015.
Initially, the State Economic Offences Wing and the Anti-Corruption Bureau had taken up the investigation. The ED subsequently entered the fray to probe the money-laundering angle.
“The probe by the ED reveals that the accused was in touch with the constitutional functionary. There was an attempt to reduce the gravity of the scheduled offences of other accused. The accused also influenced the witnesses to withdraw statements made before the ED.
“This is such a case that this court can exercise power under Article 142 (special power to pass any order) when a matter of this magnitude before the highest court of the country… These highly placed (government) officers in connivance with authorities in constitutional posts took advantage. I have not mentioned names, but I have WhatsApp chats. We have not revealed names to ensure that the faith of the people in the system is not shaken,” Mehta told the bench, which includes Justices S. Ravindra Bhat and Ajay Rastogi.
Mehta made the submission while seeking a transfer of the trial from Chhattisgarh to avoid intimidation of witnesses and destruction of evidence.
Mehta complained that although the ED had made the transfer plea more than a year ago and the matter came up for early listing on at least six occasions, it was only listed on Monday.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the state, submitted that the alleged scandal took place when the BJP was in power. The Congress governs Chhattisgarh now.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for one of the accused, dared the solicitor-general to disclose the name of the high court judge allegedly involved in the conversation with the accused.
“You can reveal the name. Why not? A judge isn’t above law,” Rohatgi said.
Mehta said: “… A senior functionary of the Chhattisgarh government is working to weaken the predicate offence case against the accused. Please read between lines. Accused have also got help from the present Chhattisgarh government.”
CJI Lalit said: “… I think there are certain names, which need not be made public.”
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for an intervener in the matter, supported the ED’s stand that the case should be transferred out of the state.
Senior advocate Meenakshi Arora, representing one of the accused, said he was entitled to bail as he had been in jail for the last two-and-a-half years. She said over 170 witnesses had been examined.
After hearing the arguments, the bench asked the respective sides, including the State of Chhattisgarh, to place the materials in their possession in sealed covers and posted the matter for further hearing on next Monday.