NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Monday highlighted the gravity of the ED's claim that some constitutional functionaries were in touch with a high court judge to help the accused in the 'Nagrik Apurti Nigam' (NAN) scam in Chhattisgarh, saying it stood on "completely different footing" as the judge was allegedly a party to "some kind of conversation".
Chief Justice Uday Umesh Lalit, heading the bench, referred to his role as the head of the judiciary and said besides sitting in the appellate jurisdiction in the case, he is also "donning a different hat" and is authorised to take corrective administrative actions.
The bench, also comprising justices Ajay Rastogi and S Ravindra, meanwhile, asked the special court in Chhattisgarh not to proceed with the trial in the case and fixed ED's plea for a hearing on October 12.
The anti-money laundering agency made a startling claim recently about some constitutional functionaries of Chhattisgarh being in touch with an HC judge to ensure judicial relief to some accused in a money laundering case arising out of the alleged multi-crore rupees NAN scam.
Besides seeking transfer of the PMLA case outside Chhattisgarh, the ED has sought cancellation of anticipatory bail granted to some high-profile accused in the money laundering case.
It recently submitted a sealed cover report containing some objectionable WhatsApp messages, indicating the involvement of the constitutional functionaries, to the bench.
Distinguishing between the present case and the other one cited by senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for an accused, the bench said, "What has happened here and what is projected here is something different. If the presiding officer himself is a party to some kind of conversation or being approached, then the matter stands on a completely different footing".
"So, therefore, at this juncture and that is why he (Solicitor General for ED) is also justified in saying that we are in a different capacity altogether because not only as the appellate court, but also as the court which can take corrective action when it comes on the administrative side. Correct?" the CJI said.
There are various methodologies by which a court can take administrative control of the situation, the bench said about permitting the filing of a sealed cover report in a case.
"I also happen to be donning a different hat. therefore when he (ED's counsel) says that please see those WhatsApp messages. And those WhatsApp messages may point in certain directions, therefore it is not just the investigation part, it is something greater than that also," the CJI said.
The bench said it will peruse the material supplied in the sealed cover by the ED, before thinking of handing them to the counsel for the accused.
At the outset, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for ED, referred to the facts and chronology of events in the case, alleging witnesses have turned hostile and the entire trial in the predicate offences have been botched up.
Mehta then indicated toward the messages and said it was not a simple case where a probe agency was seeking cancellation of the anticipatory bail granted to some of the accused and transfer of the case.
He said the matter related to the trust of the common people in the system. The moment he sought to rely on the sealed cover material, Rohatgi raised preliminary objections.
"Either, it (sealed cover report) should be part of the records and everybody should get it, otherwise this procedure, according to me, is not established by law," he contended.
"My objection is that all materials filed or relied upon must be made available to a party unless privilege is claimed in terms of section 123 of the Evidence Act," he said.
The bench then made the reference to the gravity of the situation and said it will take a decision on the question of relying on the material in the sealed cover on the next date of hearing.
"Unless we are satisfied, we are not going to rely. Because of the slightly delicate nature of the matter, we will not like to give you the copy straightaway. Straight and simple. If it crosses the threshold bar, we will certainly give you the copy," the CJI said.
The law officer had alleged that some high constitutional functionaries of the state along with members of the SIT were "weakening" the case with the connivance of the accused which included two senior IAS officers.
The Enforcement Directorate had said its plea against the grant of bail needed an urgent hearing in view of the fact that the evidence has been "cooked up" in favour of the accused senior officers in the case.
Prior to this, the Chhattisgarh High Court had granted anticipatory bail to IAS officers Anil Tuteja and Alok Shukla in the money laundering case related to the Chhattisgarh Civil Supply Corporation scam.
In 2019, the ED had lodged an Enforcement Case Information Report (ECIR) under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, which was based on the FIR and charge sheet filed by the Chhattisgarh police's economic offences wing (EOW) and the anti-corruption bureau (ACB) in the civil supply scam.
The alleged scam came to light in February 2015, when a BJP government under Raman Singh was at the helm.
The ACB conducted raids on the offices of NAN, the agency entrusted with the task of effective functioning of the Public Distribution System (PDS), and seized unaccounted cash totalling Rs 3.64 crore.
The FIR alleged wide-scale corrupt practices in the procurement and transportation of rice and other food grains which involved officials and others related to the state Civil Supplies Corporation, Raipur.
The central probe agency has alleged that the accused officers "time and again" evaded the proceedings established by law and have been successfully able to thwart an impartial investigation and trial due to their political clout.
Referring to an income tax raid, it said the mobile phone records of two accused officers revealed that they and others have weakened the offence of corruption by procuring favourable reports from prosecuting agencies and the state SIT.