ED has no Vested Right to Interrogate accused in custody: Tamil Nadu Minister Balaji to SC

Tamil Nadu’s embattled minister V Senthil Balaji and his wife Megala on Tuesday argued in the Supreme Court that the ED has no vested right to interrogate an accused in custody.

Balaji, who continues to be a minister without portfolio in the Tamil Nadu government even after his arrest on June 14, and his wife assailed a Madras High Court order upholding his arrest by the probe agency in a money laundering case arising out of the alleged cash-for-jobs scam in the state’s transport department.

Represented by senior advocates Kapil Sibal and Mukul Rohatgi, the duo submitted that once the period of 15 days from the date of arrest has expired, the investigating agency cannot demand custodial interrogation as it is not permitted under law.

A division bench of justices A S Bopanna and M M Sundresh listed the matter for further hearing on August 2 when the Solicitor General (SG) Tushar Mehta is likely to argue on behalf of the ED.

Mehta said the facts of the case show how the “system was taken for a ride” and urged to court to permit him to make detailed submissions on Wednesday.

The agency has also filed an appeal against the high court order upholding his remand to judicial custody.

Rohatgi said that Senthil was “recovering” in jail hospital after his bypass surgery and the agency was free to seek permission to question him during his judicial custody.

The senior lawyer submitted that there are contrary opinions by the top court on the legal issue of remanding an accused to police custody after the expiry of 15 days from the date of arrest and therefore the question may be referred to a larger bench for consideration.

He, however, contended that the law was clear that there was “no concept of exclusion” of time once arrest is made and police custody cannot be given after the first 15 days.

“There is no exclusion of time in first 15 days. Once the clock starts ticking, it cannot be stopped,” Rohatgi said.

“There is no vested right after 15 days (to interrogate in custody). This is much ado about nothing,” he added.

Sibal contended that the agency has no right to interrogate at a specific place, there was no compliance of section 41A (notice of appearance) of Criminal Procedure Code and the grounds of arrest were not communicated in terms of the legal mandate.

Balaji and his wife had earlier contested in the apex court ED’s power to seek custodial interrogation of an accused, asserting the officials of the anti-money laundering probe agency were not police officers.

The solicitor general had said the present case has to be decided expeditiously as the probe agency only has time till August 13 to quiz the minister in custody as the 60 days time, prescribed under section 167 of the CrPC, to complete the probe and for filing the charge sheet is ending on August 13.

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The top court had on July 21 sought the ED’s response on the petitions filed by Balaji and his wife Megala challenging the July 14 order of the Madras High Court upholding his arrest by the probe agency in a money laundering case.

The minister and his wife have filed two separate petitions in the top court challenging the high court order.

Besides upholding the arrest of the minister, the high court had held as valid his subsequent remand in judicial custody by a sessions court in the money laundering case arising out of the alleged cash-for-jobs scam in the state’s transport department when he was the transport minister.

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