Justice Suresh Kait of Delhi HC rejected Enforcement Directorate’s (ED) plea to set aside the bail granted to businessman Ratul Puri, nephew of Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath, in a money laundering case connected with the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper scam noting that four other accused in the case are already out on bail and Puri had been in custody for over 100 days.
In January 2014, India had scrapped a contract with Finmeccanica’s British subsidiary, AgustaWestland, for supplying 12 VVIP choppers to the Indian Air Force, over alleged breach of contractual obligations and charges of kickbacks worth Rs 423 crore being paid to secure the deal. The ED had filed the supplementary prosecution complaint (ED’s equivalent to a charge sheet) against Puri and co-accused Jaspreet Ahuja in the Rs 3,600-crore AgustaWestland VVIP chopper deal case. According to the ED, the role of Puri was that his foreign entities received proceeds of crime directly from Interstellar Technologies Ltd, a co-accused in the case and that he had received funds from both the chains of money laundering involved in the present matter. The ED also in its charge sheet dated Nov 02,2019 stated that Puri have received kickbacks of about Rs 16 crore from firms linked to purported middlemen involved the multi-crore VVIP choppers scam.
ED said that during investigations, it was revealed that kickbacks from AgustaWestland amounting to Euro 70 million was routed through middlemen Carlo Gerosa and Guido Haschke, who have received about Euro 28 million, and Christian Michel James (another middleman in the case), who had received about Euro 42 million, to influence the contract for the supply of 12 VVIP helicopters. Puri received “proceeds of crime” amounting to Euro 704,134.57 and USD 1, 50,000 from Interstellar Technologies Limited in his foreign entities. The same money was then layered through various companies in foreign jurisdictions and then brought into India and invested in Hindustan Power Group, whose chairman is Puri.
The ED had claimed that Puri also received “proceeds of crime” amounting to USD 12,40,890 from Michel’s companies namely Global Services FZE and Globe Oil FZE through the companies of Rajiv Saxena which were used for the benefit of Puri.
The ED then too on Nov 26, 2019 had opposed the bail application of the Puri and the agency had told that the stage was not fit to release Puri on bail since the investigation was still ongoing. But, Puri has moved his bail plea through advocate Vijay Agarwal, saying he was not required for the investigation and that no purpose will be solved by keeping him further custody.
- The ED listed Puri in the sixth charge sheet filled in the VVIP chopper scam.
- Trial court also observed in the proceedings about the co-accused having similar or greater role than the role of the present accused who had been enlarged on bail.
- ED said that role of Puri was that his foreign entities received proceeds of crime directly from Interstellar Technologies Ltd.
- ED also said that Puri had received funds from both the chains of money laundering involved in the present matter.
Delhi HC rejected the plea of ED as Justice Kait quoted that bail once granted ought not to be cancelled in a mechanical manner and it has to be established that the relief was being misused or that it was not in the interest of justice to allow the accused to remain out. The Court made further observations as follows:
- All those facts which are missing in the present case added no ground as made in the petition that can lead to the interference with the bail granted to Puri by a special court on December 2, 2019.
- Among the 46 accused, 25 were in different countries, four on bail after being arrested and only one — Christian Michel James — who was extradited from abroad was in custody.
- Investigation in the case had started in 2014 and after lapse of more than five years, the probe was still going on and “may continue for further substantial years”.
- Puri underwent around 100 days in judicial custody and was “interrogated substantially” during that period and while in ED remand.
Taking the above observations into consideration, Court expressed that there is no ground made in the present petition to interfere with the impugned order December 2, 2019 whereby special judge has granted bail to the respondent (Puri). The court also said there has to be evidence of misuse of bail for setting aside that relief. Granting him the relief, the trial court had directed Puri, who was in the ED custody since September 4, not to “tamper with evidence” or “try to contact or influence the witnesses.
Edited by J. Madonna Jephi
Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje