In a breather to BRS MLC Kalvakuntla Kavitha, the Supreme Court on Tuesday, 26 September, ordered the Enforcement Directorate (ED) not to call her for questioning.
It also posted her plea against summoning by the ED in the Delhi Liquor Scam case to 20 November, in which a number of people — including former Delhi deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia — are in jail.
While protecting Kavitha from being summoned by the ED to their office, Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, heading a bench that also comprised Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia, said, “You can’t say that a woman can’t be called (to the ED office for questioning). There have to be some safeguards.”
‘Women could be questioned at their residence’
Justice Kaul said this when a lawyer appearing for one of the petitioners, in response to a query from the bench, said that the issue was that a woman accused under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) could be questioned at her residence itself.
“In the meantime, don’t call her, we have to hear the matter,” Justice Kaul told Additional Solicitor General (ASG) SV Raju, appearing for the ED.
As Raju tried to shift from the position he had stated in the course of the hearing, Justice Kaul said: “We have heard it in the court.”
Raju assured the bench that Kavitha would not be called for questioning till 20 November.
Posting the matter for hearing on 20 November, the bench said that, before that, a special bench comprising Justices Kaul, AS Bopanna, and Bela MN Trivedi would decide two causes arising from the 27 July, 2022, judgement, which upheld the amended stringent provisions of the PMLA.
The special bench, headed by Justice Kaul, would examine whether an Enforcement Case Information Report (ECIR) by the ED could be denied to an accused while arresting them.
Stating that the special bench would assemble on 18 November to consider the two issues, Justice Kaul said that the outcome of the issue could have “some ramifications” for “them”. The reference was to PMLA-accused politicians like Abhishek Banerjee, Nalini Chidambaram, and K Kavitha.
The ED is investigating Kavitha for her alleged involvement in money laundering rooted in the implementation of the now-scrapped Delhi excise policy of 2021-22.
Arguments in earlier hearing
In an earlier hearing in the Supreme Court, the advocate appearing for Kavitha urged the top court to pass an order in her (Kavitha’s) case, similar to one that was passed in senior advocate Nalini Chidambaram’s case, and decide the main issue pending before the court.
The top court had, by an order on 3 August, 2018, extended an earlier interim order passed by the Madras High Court protecting Nalini Chidambaram from any coercive steps. The same continues to be extended. She was summoned by the ED in connection with the Saradha Chit Fund scam case.
The top court seized a batch of petitions, including by Kavitha, in which she contended whether she needed to be interrogated at her home or in the ED office in Delhi. The court had earlier issued notice in similar petitions of Nalini Chidambaram and Abhishek Banerjee
The ED said that Section 160 Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) is not applicable in PMLA cases in pursuance to the top court judgement upholding stringent provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).
Kavitha, in her petition, urged the top court to quash the 7 and 11 March and the 14 September summons by the ED stating that asking her to appear at the agency’s office instead of her residence was contrary to the settled tenets of criminal jurisprudence and thus, wholly unsustainable in law being violative of the proviso to Section 160 of CrPC.
She has also sought that the seizure made by the ED be declared null and void.
Videographing of proceedings
The BRS leader had earlier also sought that all proceedings to be carried out by ED, including those in relation to the recording of statements, be audio/videographed, in the presence of her lawyer at a visible distance, inter-alia by way of installation of appropriate CCTV cameras.
Alleging political conspiracy by certain members of the ruling BJP at the Centre, Kavitha, in her petition, had alleged that despite her not being named in the FIR, certain members of the incumbent ruling political party at Centre made scandalous statements linking her to the Delhi Excise Policy and the said FIR.
“The political conspiracy against the Petitioner (Kavitha) unfortunately did not end with judicial intervention by way of the suit. The Enforcement Directorate filed a remand application qua one of the accused on 30.11.2022 before the concerned court. This remand application contained the personal contact details of the petitioner,” she said in the petition.
“There was no rhyme or reason to include the personal contact details of the petitioner in a remand application which did not even concern the petitioner. The act is all the more egregious considering the petitioner is a lady,” she added.
Kavitha said that the subsequent events were “extremely shameful” and in the “belief of the Petitioner (Kavitha), were orchestrated by the ED at the behest of the members of the incumbent ruling party at the Centre, as part of a larger conspiracy against her.
In a press conference in Nizamabad recently after she received the latest ED summons, Kavitha had said: “Targeting the leaders of the ruling party using central investigation agencies is the modus operandi of the BJP in every poll-bound state,” adding that the summons was not “ED notice, but Modi notice”.
According to the ED, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) communication head Vijay Nair, on behalf of AAP leaders, received kickbacks to the tune of ₹100 crore from a so-called “South Group” — as termed in the statements of various persons recorded during the investigation — to manipulate the Delhi excise policy to benefit them.
According to the CBI, the prominent names in the “South Group” include YSRCP MP Magunta Srinuvasulu Reddy, his son Raghava, and Kavitha.
Arun Ramachandran Pillai was also arrested by the ED on the contention that he was among the three key representatives of Kavitha.
Apart from Pillai, the two other representatives of Kavitha are said to be beauty salon chain owner Abhishek Boinpally and chartered accountant Gorantla Butchibabu.