[Gold smuggling case] Questioning reportedly goes on for 18-20 hours: Kerala CMO official urges for time-bound ED quiz in Kerala High Court

"From media and others I understand that questioning goes on for 18-20 hours.. he’s a sick person he cannot!", his counsel argued today.
[Gold smuggling case] Questioning reportedly goes on for 18-20 hours: Kerala CMO official urges for time-bound ED quiz in Kerala High Court
CM Raveendran and Kerala High Court

The Kerala High Court on Wednesday reserved orders on a writ petition filed by CM Raveendran, Additional Private Secretary to the Kerala Chief Minister, challenging the Enforcement Directorate’s (ED) repeated summons to him in the gold smuggling case investigation. (CM Raveendran v. Union of India)

Justice VG Arun heard Raveendran’s counsel, R Anil and Additional Solicitor General SV Raju, who appeared for the ED.

Advocate R Anil claimed that the ED was summoning Raveendran repeatedly despite his having informed officials that he had been infected with COVID-19 and still suffering post-COVID-19 illnesses. It was also submitted that he apprehended an extended interrogation that could virtually be equal to custodial interrogation.

At this juncture, ASG SV Raju interjected and sought to contest the maintainability of the writ proceedings.

Citing a series of Supreme Court and High Court rulings, he claimed that the writ petition was premature and especially since a complaint was not yet filed against the petitioner.

The ED had given him reasonable notice before each of its four summons to him, the ASG added.

When the Judge asked Advocate Anil as to why he was challenging the summons, the lawyer exclaimed:

"Look at the dates on which I am asked to appear! Exactly on those days I have to go to the hospital! Opinion has built up in such a manner that it is as if I am abusing the process, that is what!"

He argued further that the ED was not exercising its powers judiciously, which constrained his client to move the High Court.

“In my writ I have not challenged the power to summon. But basically being a power, - I don’t think there is any need for a decision (Supreme Court judgments) as my Lord is aware - a power has to be judiciously exercised. If power is not judiciously exercised, the only option is for the citizen to approach the Hon’ble Court under 226, which I feel there cannot be any quarrel to...”, Advocate Anil submitted on Raveendran's behalf

Stating that he understood from media reports that the ED interrogation could span hours, he sought the Court’s intervention in ensuring that Raveendran was summoned only for a reasonable time.

The lawyer averred that the official was only a witness in the interrogation and not an accused. As such, he ought to be treated as a witness in a civil court, and the interrogation should be conducted with the trappings of a civil court, it was contended.

“... I don’t want the respondent to detain me beyond a reasonable time because I’m like a court witness. How can a court ask a witness to depose in court? Can it exceed (extend) to midnight?”
Advocate R Anil for Raveendran

Asserting that the Prevention of Money-Laundering Act (PMLA) did not specify a reasonable time period within which interrogations could be conducted, advocate Anil urged the Court to specify the time. The counsel, describing the non-specification of a reasonable time as a “grey area” in the PMLA, also undertook before Court that Raveendran would appear when summoned, without evasion or hesitation.

ASG Raju observed that it was not possible to fix a reasonable time for interrogation, since the time taken was contingent on the type of answers the subject gave. The time taken would depend on whether the subject responded, or was evasive, he explained. The time could not be constrained in any way, he asserted.

To ASG Raju’s additional submission that a High Court could not interfere with proceedings when an ED investigation was at a preliminary stage, Justice Arun remarked: “I’ll be stepping beyond my jurisdiction by assuming there is apprehension … that he will be detained."

Responding that the question of non-cooperation with questioning did not arise under the PMLA since a summoned person was bound to respond, Advocate Anil said,

“I’m not asking milord to assume ... the fact is a person who is summoned is bound to answer … Non-cooperation does not arise out of the PMLA, the Act says he is bound to answer. When the Act is silent, they do not say they don’t not intend to detain me beyond a reasonable time. That itself shows. When the Act is silent, where will I go?!”

Justice Arun then told the parties that he would consider their submissions and posted the matter for orders on Thursday, that is December 17.

Pertinently, December 17 is also the latest date scheduled for Raveendran’s ED interrogation.

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