ED moves SC against HC order allowing TN min Senthil Balaji to be shifted to private hospital

The Enforcement Directorate on Monday moved the Supreme Court against an order of the Madras High Court allowing arrested Tamil Nadu minister V Senthil Balaji, who was undergoing medical treatment at a government hospital in Chennai, to be shifted to a private facility.

The Tamil Nadu Electricity, and Prohibition and Excise minister was arrested by the ED on June 14 under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) in an alleged cash for jobs scam that took place when he was the transport minister in an AIADMK government led by the late J Jayalalithaa.

The high court passed an interim order after Balaji’s wife filed a habeas corpus petition alleging illegal arrest.

Balaji has reportedly been advised a coronary bypass surgery.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the ED, mentioned the matter before a vacation bench of Justice Surya Kant and Justice M M Sundresh seeking an urgent hearing.

Mehta told the bench that Balaji is an influential minister and the high court has allowed his transfer to a private hospital which could hamper investigation.

Expressing disinclination about entertaining the petition, the top court said the high court should be allowed to pass a final order first on the petition filed by Balaji’s wife.

The Solicitor General said the high court passed the order on the basis of the remand order issued by the trial court which said the ED can interrogate Balaji without disturbing his health and with the doctor’s advice. The order renders the interrogation meaningless, he contended.

The apex court then posted the matter for hearing on June 21.

In its plea before the top court, the ED said the high court erred in entertaining the habeas corpus petition, claiming it was not maintainable after a judicial order was passed remanding the accused in the custody of the anti-money laundering agency.

“The high court has erred in allowing the arrestee (Balaji) to be shifted to a private hospital without there being any basis to do so and without first considering the request of the ED to constitute an independent medical board for evaluation.

“Having allowed shifting of the arrestee to a private hospital, the high court has erred in not entertaining the plea of the investigating agency of excluding the period of treatment to be undergone in the private hospital from the period of custody as interrogation and investigation would be rendered meaningless while the arrestee is in hospital,” the ED’s plea said.

The probe agency said the high court erred in entertaining the habeas corpus petition when Balaji had already been remanded in custody by way of a judicial order by a court of competent jurisdiction.

“The validity of arrest cannot be challenged in a habeas corpus petition once the person arrested has been validly remanded to custody. The high court has erred in entertaining the habeas corpus petition when Senthil Balaji has been duly remanded to custody by the Special Court. The said petition was liable to be dismissed at the outset for being not maintainable,” the ED said.

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It said the order to shift Balaji to a private hospital, without considering the specific averment made on behalf of the ED that an independent and impartial medical opinion be sought with respect to his medical condition, is untenable.

The HC had on June 15 allowed the the minister, who was then undergoing medical treatment at a government hospital after his arrest, to a private facility.

The Madras High court has also issued notice to the ED on the main plea of ‘illegal’ arrest of Balaji and posted the matter to June 22.

The high court had said Balaji will continue to remain in judicial custody and allowed the probe agency to have its own team of doctors examine the minister.

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