The Delhi High Court on Monday granted bail to Indore-based real estate developer Vijay Agrawal in a money laundering case involving alleged hawala dealer Naresh Jain, and said when an individual’s liberty is concerned, it cannot proceed merely on the basis of assumptions and presumptions.
Justice Dinesh Kumar Sharma said there is no “absolute restraint” on the grant of bail under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act or a requirement of “positive finding qua guilt” at this stage.
The judge said there has to be some substantial link between the money received and criminal activity relating to scheduled offence, which can be attributed to the accused.
According to the Enforcement Directorate (ED), Naresh Jain along with his brother Bimal Jain and other accomplices hatched a criminal conspiracy to cause a loss to the exchequer and banks by indulging in illegal foreign exchange transactions on the basis of forged and fabricated documents.
The agency told the court that in furtherance of the conspiracy, Agrawal acquired shares of a company at a lesser price than actual valuation and also took loans from the shell companies of the co-accused.
The court observed the claim by Agrawal, who was arrested in March 2022, that he did not know he was dealing with tainted money cannot be brushed aside mechanically and granted him bail on a personal bond of Rs 25 lakh subject to conditions.
“For the purpose that evidence cannot be meticulously examined at this stage, the court cannot merely proceed on the basis of assumption. There has to be some substantial link between the money received and criminal activity relating to scheduled offence which can be attributed to the petitioner,” said the court.
“The petitioner is stated to be renowned developer and his plea that he did not know that he is dealing with the tainted money cannot be brushed aside mechanically. If the liberty of an individual is concerned, the Court cannot proceed merely on the basis of assumptions and presumptions.. The twin conditions of Section 45 do not put an absolute restrain on the grant of bail or require a positive finding qua guilt,” said the court.
In its order, the court stated while protecting the right and liberty of an individual, it has to consider the right of the society at large as well as the prosecuting agency as the offence of money laundering is a very serious offence which affects the financial health, integrity and sovereignty of the nation.
It however added the offence of money laundering is like a “running-goods train where the bogey keeps on adding” and the question to be examined is whether a person whose role is found later knew that the money which he has been dealing with is a proceed of crime and a finding cannot be returned “merely on the basis of inferences and presumptions”.
The court added it cannot meticulously examine the evidence and cannot hold a mini trial at this stage as it has to only examine the case on the scale of broad probabilities.
The court noted in the present case, Agrawal was not an accused in the predicate offence and was also not named in the ED FIR. He also suffered from a serious medical condition, it said.
“Thus taking into account the facts and circumstances,the petitioner is admitted to bail on furnishing a personal bond in the sum of Rs.25,00,000/- (Rupees Twenty-Five lakhs) with two sureties of the like amount to the satisfaction of the trial court, subject to the conditions,” ordered the court.
The ED has alleged that Naresh Jain and his accomplices were operating around 337 accounts in foreign banks in Dubai, Hongkong and Singapore in respect of 104 shell firms/ companies.
It claimed before the high court that during the investigation, 603 bank accounts of 311 companies have been examined and it has been gathered that Naresh Jain and his accomplices rotated funds approximately to the tune of Rs 96,000 crore for providing accommodation entries of approximately Rs 18,679 crore to 973 beneficiaries.