Madras HC orders principal district judge in Chennai to hear Senthil Balaji’s bail plea

In a potential relief to arrested Tamil Nadu Minister V Senthil Balaji, the Madras High Court on Monday directed the principal district judge in Chennai to dispose of his bail application in the alleged cash-for-jobs scam at the earliest after an issue had arisen regarding the jurisdiction of the trial proceedings.

A division bench comprising Justices R Suresh Kumar and K Kumaresh Babu gave the directive while disposing of a petition filed by Balaji challenging the orders of the principal district judge and a special court for trial of cases relating to MPs and MLAs of Tamil Nadu, returning his bail applications for want of jurisdiction.

The HC held that the bail application filed by Balaji, who was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate in connection with the money laundering case in June, has to be heard and disposed only by the Principal District Judge, Chennai. It ordered the principal district judge to withdraw the transfer of the case and dispose of his bail application after hearing both sides at the earliest.

The bench said as per the final report submitted by the ED against the petitioner last month, it is an offence punishable under Section 4 of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA). Section 4 makes it clear that whoever commits the offence of money laundering shall be punishable with rigorous imprisonment for a term that shall not be less than three years but which may extend to seven years and shall also be liable to fine.

The ED has maintained that the offence committed by Balaji is to be tried under Section 4 of PMLA based on which the final report has been filed in the court.

Therefore, whatever the offence that has been alleged against anyone, which is punishable under Section 4 of the Act, that has to be tried only by special courts designated under Section 43(1) of PMLA where the proposed court is located, the bench added.

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“We feel that the very transfer of the case or made over made by the Principal Judge, Chennai by transferring the case papers to the Special Court for trial of cases exclusively against MLAs and MPs is not in consonance with section 43(1) of the PMLA…the bail application filed by the petitioner, in our considered opinion, has to be heard and disposed only by the Principal Judge, Chennai”.

The bench said in this context, the case papers have already been transferred to the Special Court and it has now become necessitated to withdraw and re-transfer the documents to the Principal District Judge, Chennai, and thereafter the bail application shall be taken up for hearing to be disposed of at the earliest.

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