New Delhi, Feb 7 (IANS) The Supreme Court on Tuesday junked a plea by journalist Rana Ayyub challenging summonses issued by a special court in connection with a Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) case.
A bench of Justices V. Ramasubramanian and J.B. Pardiwala said the question of jurisdiction can be raised during the trial to ascertain if the proceeds of crime were acquired over there.
It said: 'We are of the view that the issue of territorial jurisdiction cannot be decided in a writ petition, especially when there is a serious factual dispute about the place/places of commission of the offence. Hence, this question should be raised by the petitioner before the special court, since an answer to the same would depend upon evidence as to the places where any one or more of the processes or activities mentioned in Section 3 were carried out.'
'Therefore, giving liberty to the petitioner to raise the issue of territorial jurisdiction before the trialcCourt, this writ petition is dismissed'.
The top court did not accept Ayyub's counsel contention that since she had opened her bank account in Navi Mumbai, in which the money was collected, she can be proceeded against not in a Ghaziabad court but in a special designated court in Mumbai.
'The area in which the property is derived or obtained or even held or concealed, will be the area in which the offence of money laundering is committed.'
The top court said 'from the pleadings on record, we are not able to make out (i) the number of persons who provided funds; and (ii) the places where the donors were located'.
It said the question of territorial jurisdiction in this case requires an enquiry into a question of fact as to the place where the alleged proceeds of crime were (i) concealed; or (ii) possessed; or (iii) acquired; or (iv) used. This question of fact will actually depend upon the evidence that unfolds before the trial court, it added.
The bench said the involvement of a person in any one or more of certain processes or activities connected with the proceeds of crime, constitutes the offence of money laundering. These processes or activities include, (i) concealment; (ii) possession; (iii) acquisition; (iv) use; (v) projecting as untainted property; or (vi) claiming as untainted property.
It pointed out that the bank account of the petitioner in HDFC Bank, Koperkhairane Branch, Navi Mumbai, Maharashtra, is the ultimate destination, to which all funds reached. 'Therefore, Navi Mumbai, Maharashtra is a place where only one of the six different processes or activities listed in Section 3 has been carried out. The other activity, namely acquisition of the proceeds of crime (if they really are) has taken place in the virtual mode with people from different parts of the country/world transferring money online,' noted the bench.
The bench agreed with submissions of Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Enforcement Directorate, that the question of jurisdiction can't be raised through a writ petition.
During the hearing, the Enforcement Directorate had argued that Ayyub received money through a crowdfunding platform for the purpose of slum dwellers, Covid, and some work in Assam, however she diverted the money and used it for 'personal enjoyment'.
Advocate Vrinda Grover, representing Ayyub, had argued that can her client be deprived of personal liberty by a procedure not authorised by law? She said the ED has attached her client's personal bank account in a bank at Navi Mumbai in which around Rs 1 crore was lying. Grover pressed that the Ghaziabad court has no jurisdiction to try the offence as the alleged act is claimed to have been committed in Mumbai.
Mehta had argued that Ayyub raised funds of three aspects -- slum dwellers, Covid, and for some work in Assam -- on Ketto, which is a crowdfunding platform. He added that nearly Rs 1 crore was collected and Rs 50 lakh was transferred to a personal account in fixed deposit, and after the first campaign was over, she kept receiving money. 'We found that money was diverted...used for personal enjoyment...people were donating crores without knowing where money was going...,' said Mehta.
He further submitted that a prosecution complaint was filed in the Ghaziabad court by the agency as part of the cause of action that had arisen in Uttar Pradesh, where many people, including from Ghaziabad, donated money for her crowdfunding campaign.