NEW DELHI: Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, his wife and son today failed to get relief in a money laundering case, with the Delhi High Court rejecting their pleas to quash it on the ground that the Enforcement Directorate's case was the result of "political vendetta."
The high court, which said that the argument of political vendetta was not supported by any material, also turned down the pleas of the Chief Minister, his wife Pratibha Singh, son Vikramaditya Singh and two others seeking quashing of the summons and subsequent proceedings initiated in the case.
"Suffice it to observe in this context, and at this stage, that those in public life are expected to be open to probity. Higher the position in life (or polity), higher the obligation (moral, if not legal) to be accountable," Justice R K Gauba said.
Maintaining that no person is entitled in law to evade the summons on the ground that there was a possibility that he may be prosecuted in the future, it said those in public life are expected to be open to probity.
"The prime argument of the petitioners is of political vendetta. This argument is not supported by any material.
"These proceedings are not the appropriate forum for the court to examine such plea which, in the interest of the petitioners themselves, must be left for it to be pressed, if they were so advised and if they have material to substantiate the same, at some appropriate stage in future," the judge said.
The Enforcement Directorate (ED) had summoned 83-year-old Singh, his wife and son for questioning in connection with the allegation that the leader and his family members had amassed assets worth Rs 6.1 crore between 2009 and 2011, which were disproportionate to his known sources of income at the time.
During that period, Singh was Union steel minister.
The summons were issued after the law enforcement agency had in September 2015 lodged the case against Singh and others under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) after taking cognisance of a criminal complaint filed by the CBI.
On March 31, the High Court had also refused to quash the CBI case against them following which the probe agency had filed the charge sheet in the Special Court which later granted bail to all of them.
While dismissing their plea in the ED case, the court observed that the PMLA "is a complete code which overrides the general criminal law to the extent of inconsistency. This law establishes its own enforcement machinery and other authorities with adjudicatory powers and jurisdiction.
"The enforcement machinery is conferred with the power and jurisdiction or investigation, such powers being quite exhaustive to assure effective investigation and with built-in safeguards to ensure fairness, transparency and accountability at all stages."
It said the powers conferred on the enforcement officers for purposes of complete and effective investigation include the power to summon and examine any person.
"The law declares that every such person who is summoned is bound to state the truth. At the time of such investigative process, the person summoned is not an accused," the court said, adding that mere registration of Enforcement Case Information Report (ECIR) by the ED does not make a person an accused.
"He may eventually turn out to be an accused upon being arrested or upon being prosecuted. No person is entitled in law to evade the command of the summons issued under Section 50 PMLA on the ground that there is a possibility that he may be prosecuted in the future," it added.
The court said that endeavours to stall the probe, particularly on technical grounds, "have the potency of giving the impression that there is something to hide."
"There is nothing shown to the court from which it could be inferred that the issuance of summons by the respondents to the petitioners for investigation into the ECIR, in exercise of statutory powers, has caused, or has the effect of causing, any prejudice to any of them.
"The petitions are found devoid of substance and, consequently, dismissed," it added.
The Delhi High Court had paved the way for criminal proceedings which were stalled due to an October 1, 2015 order of the Himachal Pradesh High Court restraining the CBI from arresting, interrogating and filing the charge sheet against the accused.
In July 2016, LIC agent Anand Chauhan was arrested by the ED under provisions of the PMLA as he was allegedly not cooperating with the investigating officer of the case.
The probe agency had alleged that Singh, while serving as the Union minister, had invested huge amounts in purchasing LIC policies in his and his family members' names through Chauhan.