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Black money and a sloppy government probe

March 11, 2011 22:49 IST

"Does that mean the Enforcement Directorate mislead Supreme court? It seems so. This is very serious. I am surprised to know about the judgment," said apex court's topnotch lawyer Harish Salve reacting to a Mumbai court's rejection to the plea by the ED seeking remand of Hasan Ali Khan for his custodial interrogation in a money laundering case.

The case against Hasan Ali Khan and others is also being heard in Supreme Court where senior lawyer Anil Divan, on behalf of his clients -- including Ram Jethmalani – has requested transparent investigation of the case and tight monitoring of its progress.

The judgment of the principal sessions court in Mumbai is a big blow to the case in Supreme Court, feel many legal experts.

Mumbai-based lawyer Mahesh Jethamalani told, "This judgment will very much impact the case in the Supreme Court. This shows that the apex court must take over the monitoring of the case."

"Can someone tell us is there an account of Hasan Ali in Swiss bank or not? (Finance Minister) Pranab Mukherjee has said in the Parliament that he has an account and sum of $50,000 (around Rs 22 lakhs) was withdrawn. Why can't the ED say the same thing in the Mumbai court and prove it?"

Jethamalani said, "The ED's case proves that somebody so powerful is behind the case who is not allowing the ED to investigate this case properly. This is the case of a flimsy investigation."

He alleged, "Hasan Ali case is not being properly investigated because that Swiss account belongs to someone in the Congress party."

There is no doubt remaining that in the Hasan Ali case investigation was shoddily done by government's various agencies, which Judge M L Tahiliyani has, rightly, pointed out.

Jethamalani said, "Every time government is going to the Swiss bank they complain that the Indian government is bringing forged documents."

The court not only granted bail to the accused Ali but as a result ED has become a laughing stock.

The conditional bail to Hasan Ali will not go well for the United Progressive Alliance regime which is trying hard to retrieve its credibility dented due to various scams.

"The message will go that in the UPA regime not only cases of corruption are rampant, but when caught, the investigations are not professionally done," said a senior lawyer appearing against the government in one of the cases related to the black money scam.

Salve said, "In our country it's easy to make allegations but difficult to prove it in a court of law."

"No material evidence has been presented by the ED that shows any scheduled offence has been committed by Khan," Tahiliyani observed while rejecting the agency's remand application.

To the relief of the investigating agencies and the government, the judge has given only conditional bail to Khan. He has been asked to appear before the ED officials every day.

The judge was not convinced to see the documents presented by ED. He said it's easily available on the Internet. There was hardly anything presented before the court to show how, when and where Ali earned the 'ill-gotten' money.

The investigation of the case is on since 2006 but the ED has failed to move in the right direction.

What is most astounding is that ED has not been able to even provide evidences that Ali has an account abroad amounting to criminal offense of money laundering.

The case against Khan is that he has allegedly stashed over $ 8 billion in UBS bank in Switzerland. The documents on which this allegation was based, is not an original document but a Xerox copy, pointed the defence lawyers.

What ED has not done so far is that there is another transaction of Hasan Ali where sum of $ 7,50,000 has been transferred and enough pointers are there to investigate the case in the United States.

If the ED had cleverly found out the source of that income (not just the details of transactions but the source) the judge would have been satisfied to give the remand because the 'illegal source' of the money earned by Hasan Ali would have made this case fit to be tried under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.

Hasan Ali was arrested on Tuesday night under this act. This act's condition was not fulfilled by the ED, the judge observed.

However, one should not be really surprised by the sloppy investigation in this case by ED.

Anil Divan had already put it on record in his submission as recently as March 8 before the Supreme Court that in view of 'disturbing reports and selective leaks' in the newspapers, 'steps must be taken to reinstate officers removed from the investigation and constitute a Special Investigation Team.'

The cross examination of ED's investigating officer A K Singh in the Mumbai court was shocking, to say the least. Divan had drawn the attention of the Supreme Court that how ED's investigating officer's response during the cross examination by Ali's lawyer in the court was helping Ali only.

Divan asked, "How is it that on one side raids and investigation is being carried out indicating that investigation is not complete, and at the same time adjudication is being continued?"

He also said that the manner in which 'selective leaks appear to have been made to show that documents seized from Hassan Ali Khan earlier were forged' suggested 'continuation of attempts to cover up and shield powerful individuals.'

In fact, Divan even said that Hasan Ali's life is in danger.

Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi