A special court in Ahemdabad has on Wednesday dismissed a plea for bail by TMC leader and activist Saket Gokhale in connection with a money laundering case lodged by the Enforcement Directorate for diversion of funds collected through crowdfunding for personal enjoyment and lavish living.
The ED has claimed in its investigation that Gokhale collected over Rs 1 crore through crowdfunding and cash deposits and used them for leading a lavish lifestyle, “breaching the trust of general public who donated or contributed to him.”
"Considering the facts and circumstances of the subject matter prima-facie case is made out against the applicant/accused of the alleged offence , also considering the nature and gravity of the alleged offence and the fact that investigation is on crucial stage the application deserves to be rejected," Principal District and Sessions judge and Designated Special Judge (PMLA) D M Vyas said.
The court also noted the ED's contention that a detailed investigation into proceeds of crime was required as Gokhale, currently lodged at Sabarmati Central Jail, received money through crowdfunding from online platforms, Ourdemocracy.in and Razorpay, and allegedly used them for his “personal expenses”.
Gokhale contended that he raised funds making a full disclosure the money was meant not only to sustain his work but also for his personal sustenance from willing donors.
Gokhale was arrested on January 25, 2023 under the provision of Prevention of Money Laundering Act, consequent to recording ECIR subsequent to FIR of December 28, 2022 disclosing commission of offence u/s 120B, 420, 467,471 of IPC. The FIR registered against the applicant indicated that he, claiming himself an RTI Activist and a social worker on his various social media platforms, raised the money for filing RTIs for public purposes and other social activities in the interest of the public but utilised the money for other purposes.
It was alleged that the investigation revealed that he collected over Rs 1.7 crore through crowdfunding and cash deposits between 2019 and 2022.
Gokhale used the money on a luxurious lifestyle such as paying off personal credit card bills, and loan repayment to the tune of Rs 62 lakh for personal use such as flights, hotel, and dining, among others. In his plea, the petitioner said he was cardiac patient and had to look after her single mother and a younger sister.
He also claimed he has not accumulated any proceeds of crime and there is no misrepresentation and the essential ingredients to attract the offence are prima-facie not proved.
The ED's counsel that the applicant had breached the trust and cheated the general public who contributed funds to him. "The investigation under PMLA is still going on to unearth the proceed of crime and important witnesses are being examined," the agency said.