SC reserves verdict on journalist Rana Ayyub's plea in money laundering case

In her writ petition, Ayyub has sought quashing of the proceedings initiated by the ED in Ghaziabad citing lack of jurisdiction as the alleged offence of money laundering occurred in Mumbai.
Journalist Rana Ayyub. (Photo | Rana Ayyub Twitter)
Journalist Rana Ayyub. (Photo | Rana Ayyub Twitter)

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Tuesday reserved its verdict on a plea of journalist Rana Ayyub challenging the summons issued by a special court in Ghaziabad in the money laundering case.

A bench of Justices V Ramasubramanian and JB Pardiwala reserved the verdict after hearing the submissions of SG Tushar Mehta and Senior Advocate Vrinda Grover. 

On January 25, Supreme Court had directed Ghaziabad Special Judge in Uttar Pradesh to adjourn the summons proceedings scheduled against journalist Rana Ayyub on January 27 in a money laundering case till January 31. A bench of Justices Krishna Murari and V Ramasubramanian however clarified that the adjournment was not reflection on merits of the case and the same had been done due to paucity of time.

Urging the bench to stay the summons, Senior Advocate Vrinda Grover for Ayyub submitted that no part of the alleged offence had occurred in Uttar Pradesh. 

Questioning the court’s jurisdiction to issue summons and take cognisance, she said, “Ghaziabad has no jurisdiction either in law or under PMLA and also in Vijay Madanlal Chaudhary clarifies the unambiguous language of section 44 is clear. No one is complaining about cheating against me but I’ve been probed for money laundering. The only court that has jurisdiction to take cognisance is the court in Navi Mumbai.”

Opposing the relief sought, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta contended that the offence of Money Laundering is not an independent offence but is largely on the basis of a scheduled offence.

“A large number of people from Ghaziabad & UP have also donated. We found that money was diverted for personal enjoyment Etc. Several deposits are from UP & Ghaziabad. The cause of action in part has taken place in UP & Ghaziabad. There is money received from the entire UP & Ghaziabad also.”

Mehta said arguments advanced by the other side is that if a person chose to launder money in Singapore or Thiruvananthapuram, the agency has to go there and lodge a case.

"Sorry, this is not the scheme," he said, adding that Ayyub raised funds through the online platform 'Ketto' in the name of helping slum dwellers, COVID-19 patients and people of Assam which resulted in the collection of Rs 1 crore, out of which Rs 50 lakh fixed deposit was done in a personal account.

He said, "Money was shown by fake bills, groceries, among others, and was used for personal luxury items and consumption."

The summons was issued to her by the Ghaziabad Court in a case related to alleged FCRA violations in raising public funds for COVID relief. Ayyub in her plea had sought for quashing the same on the ground that the court didn’t have jurisdiction as the alleged offence had occurred in Mumbai. The case lodged by ED alleged that Ayyub the funds raised by her through the crowdfunding platform Ketto violated FCRA. 

On November 29 last year, the special PMLA court in Ghaziabad took cognisance of the prosecution complaint (charge sheet) filed by the ED and summoned Ayyub.

"I have perused the above-mentioned prosecution complaint and have also gone through the prosecution papers as well as documents, including statements. From the perusal of the entire record, there is sufficient evidence as to a prima facie case for taking cognisance against Ms Rana Ayyub with regard to the commission of the offence," the special court judge had said.

The special court had said Ayyub's alleged crime involves taking money illegally from the general public in the name of charity via Ketto -- an online crowdfunding platform -- in three campaigns, without any approval, raising a huge sum in the bank account of her sister and father, and transferring it into her own bank account which was not used for the intended purpose.

On October 12 last year, the ED filed a charge sheet against Ayyub, accusing her of cheating the public and using Rs 2.69 crore she got in charity for creating personal assets, and also violating the foreign contribution law.

"Rana Ayyub launched three fundraiser charity campaigns on the 'Ketto' platform, starting from April 2020 and collected funds totalling Rs 2,69,44,680," the ED had said in a statement.

The campaigns, it had claimed, were meant to raise funds for slum dwellers and farmers, relief work for Assam, Bihar and Maharashtra, and help Ayyub and her team help those impacted by coronavirus in India.

"Ayyub utilised these funds to create a fixed deposit of Rs 50 lakh for herself and also transferred Rs 50 lakh to a new bank account. Investigations found that only about Rs 29 lakh was used for relief work," the ED had claimed.

(With inputs from PTI)

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