CHENNAI: A division bench of Madras High Court on Monday ruled that the principal sessions court in Chennai, which is the designated special court for cases registered under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), is competent to try the case of money laundering against Tamil Nadu Minister V Senthil Balaji and take up his bail application for adjudication.
Unravelling the legal tangle arose following the principal sessions judge transferring the PMLA case to the special court for MP/MLAs cases, besides making over the bail application too; and the latter seeking the Minister to get a clarification from the High Court on the competency to take up bail petition, the bench of
Justices R Suresh Kumar and K Kumaresh Babu issued the ruling. After hearing the contentions of senior counsel NR Elango, for Senthil Balaji, and special public prosecutor Ramesh for Enforcement Directorate (ED), the concluded that since the principal sessions court was designated by the Centre as special court for trying PMLA cases, it cannot transfer the case against Senthil Balaji to the special court for MP/MLAs cases.
It explained that as per ED, the offence allegedly committed by Senthil Balaji is to be punished under section 4 of the PMLA, based on which only the final report (charge sheet) was filed on August 12, 2023.
“Therefore, whatever the case that has been laid against anyone punishable under the section 4 of PMLA, has to be tried by the special court for PMLA cases constituted or designated under section 43 (1) of the Act by issuance of notification by the Central Government in consultation with the CJ of the High Court,” it reasoned.
“That being the position, the territorial jurisdiction of the case on hand, is also Chennai, and comes under the jurisdiction of the principal district judge of Chennai. Naturally, the said case- since the alleged offence is to be punished under section 4 of PMLA- has to be tried by it,” the judges said in the order.
They further said, when that being so, we feel that the very transfer of the case by principal sessions judge, Chennai, to the special court for MP/MLAs cases ‘is not in consonance’ vis-a-vis the notification issued by the Central Government.
“Therefore the bail application, also in our considered view, has to be heard and disposed only by the principal sessions judge, Chennai,” the bench ruled.
Ordering the principal sessions judge to take back the case papers from the special court for MP/MLAs cases, the bench directed her to dispose of the bail application at the earliest.
The bench also set aside the order of the principal sessions transferring the PMLA case against Senthil Balaji to the special court for MP/MLAs.
It may be noted that the Minister was arrested on June 14, 2023 by the ED for receiving proceeds of crime accrued through the infamous cash-for-jobs scam committed during his tenure as Transport Minister in the AIADMK govt. After undergoing bypass surgery for heart blocks, he was lodged in the Puzhal Central Prison.
Meanwhile, he moved the bail application seeking him to released because the ED did not want his custody further due to completion of the investigation by virtue of filing of the charge sheet.