NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed a plea filed by journalist Rana Ayyub challenging summons issued by a Ghaziabad's special court in connection with a Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) case for misuse of money collected through crowd funding for Covid-19 victims and other purposes.
A Bench of Justices V Ramasubramanian and JB Pardiwala said that under Section 3 PMLA, the place where any of the six activities are carried out and that is the place where offence of money laundering takes place and the question as to which is the place is a question of fact decided on evidence.
“We leave it open to raise this issue before trial court. We are dismissing this petition,” the bench said, pronouncing the judgement.
On January 31, the top court had reserved its judgment on Ayyub’s plea.
During the hearing, the Enforcement Directorate has told the court that Ayyub collected money through crowdfunding platforms for slum dwellers, Covid, and some work in Assam, but diverted the money and used it for “personal enjoyment and pleasure".
The agency led by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta vehemently opposed the Ayyub's writ petition against the summons issued by the Ghaziabad court.
Mehta said over Rs one crore was collected and Rs 50 Lakh was transferred to a personal account in fixed deposit, and after the first campaign was over she kept receiving money.
“We found that money was diverted and used for personal enjoyment, luxuries and pleasure. People were donating crores without knowing where money was going,” he said.
Advocate Vrinda Grover, appearing for Ayyub, contended her client can't be deprived of personal liberty by a procedure not authorised by law.
Grover said the ED has attached her client’s personal bank account in a bank at Navi Mumbai in which around Rs one crore was lying. She said when her account is in Navi Mumbai and she lived over there, the Ghaziabad court can't exercise jurisdiction to try the offence.
"There is threat to my personal liberty, there is no authority in law to issue summons, I never shied away from facing law," she said, citing the Supreme Court's judgement in Vijay Madanlal Chaudhary.
She said the special court has to be set up in area where the offence has been committed.
She also claimed complainant, Vikas Pandey a Hindu IT cell member, has no grievance, he has not been cheated by her.
Mehta, for his part, further submitted that a prosecution complaint was filed in the Ghaziabad court by the agency as part of the cause of action had arisen in Uttar Pradesh, where many people, including from Ghaziabad, donated money for her crowdfunding campaign.
Mehta said the money laundering offence is not an independent offence and is always connected to a scheduled offence for which an FIR was lodged in Indirapuram police station of Ghaziabad.
Mehta also alleged that money was shown by fake bills, groceries, among others, and was used for personal luxury items and consumption.
Citing Ayyub’s counsel arguments, Mehta emphasized that if a person chose to launder money in Singapore or Thiruvananthapuram, the agency has to go there and lodge a case. He said, "this is not the scheme of the law".
At the end, Mehta also said a judicial order of summons cannot be subjected to a petition filed under Article 32 of the Constitution.
The special court has noted the alleged offence is connection with obtaining illegally money from the general public in the name of charity via ‘Ketto’ platform, which is an online crowdfunding platform, in three campaigns without any kind of approval, raising huge amounts in the bank account of her sister and father and later transferring the same to her own bank account which was not used for the intended purpose.
On January 25, the court had asked the Ghaziabad court which issued summons against journalist Rana Ayyub for January 27 to defer its hearing in the case.
The court, however, had asked her if the High Court concerned is powerless to decide her plea, which had questioned the jurisdiction of the Uttar Pradesh court.