New Delhi: A special CBI court on Tuesday stayed the order passed last week directing the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to withdraw the look out circular (LOC) issued against former Amnesty International India Chief Aakar Patel and tender a written apology in order to “heal his wounds”.
The order was passed by Special CBI judge Santosh Snehi Mann, on a revision petition filed by the CBI. The court also reserved order in the petition and will pronounce its judgment at 4pm on Wednesday.
On 6 April, Patel was stopped from leaving Bengaluru Airport for the US where he was scheduled to deliver academic lectures in various universities. The authorities had cited a look out circular issued against him in connection with a Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) case filed against Amnesty India International by the CBI.
A day later, a metropolitan magistrate’s court in Delhi ordered the CBI director to apologise to Patel and asked the CBI to withdraw the LOC against him. However, Patel was stopped at the airport again, the same day.
He then approached court on Friday with an application alleging contempt, while CBI approached the special CBI court with a revision application, challenging the magistrate’s order.
The same day, judge Mann stayed the order pertaining to the apology demanded from the CBI Director. The court also said that Patel could not leave the country without the court’s permission.
Sanction received after 3 months
During the hearing on Tuesday, advocate Nikhil Goel, appearing for CBI, informed the court that the sanction for prosecution in the FCRA case has been received and has been filed with the court.
The FIR in the case was lodged in November 2019 by the CBI, against Amnesty India Pvt. Ltd, Indians for Amnesty International Trust, Amnesty International Foundation Trust and Amnesty International South Asia Foundation, alleging that Amnesty (UK) had remitted Rs 10 crores to its Indian entities without the approval of the Ministry of Home Affairs, classifying it as FDI, in order to evade FCRA. It alleged that Rs 26 crores was also remitted to Amnesty India from its UK-based entities without the MHA’s approval.
A chargesheet was filed on 31 December last year, against Amnesty International India Pvt. Ltd. and Patel, the then Executive Director of the company. It mentioned Section 11 (registration of certain persons with the central government), read with Sections 35, which prescribes a punishment of a five year jail term for violating any provisions of the Act, as well as 39 (offences by companies) of the FCRA.
However, Section 40 of FCRA bars any court from taking cognizance of any offence under the Act, without the previous sanction of the central government. This means that trial in such a case cannot begin without such a sanction.
The sanction now comes over two years after the FIR was filed and over 3 months after the chargesheet was filed in the case.
‘Is he a Vijay Mallya?’
On Tuesday, Advocate Tanveer Ahmed Mir, arguing on behalf of Patel, pointed out that the chargesheet in the case was filed without the sanction under Section 40 of the FCRA. He asserted that as per the CBI manual, the CBI is obligated to file the chargesheet only after getting such a sanction.
He went on to question allegations made by the CBI, which had told the court that the “accused is well connected outside India” and the “probability to leave the country and evade prosecution” was high. He then argued, “What was the material with IO (investigating officer), that I would be leaving India for good? None. To escape the process of law? You need to have material that previously I had made attempts to leave India.”
Mir asserted the material available on record needed to show whether Patel’s case was an exceptional one for an LOC to be issued after the chargesheet was filed and asked, “Is he a Vijay Mallya?”
“What material is available with you that my departure and me giving a lecture in the University of Michigan is detrimental to the sovereignty and integrity of this country? There has to be material… that me delivering the lecture potentially will bring harm to US and India relations or it is a threat to strategic or economic relations,” Mir further submitted.
He went on to ask, “My pain and agony is, my fundamental right to travel abroad is being steamrolled and therefore if I say with all my right and legal ingredients, that ex facie your exercise of power is arbitrary, what wrong did I do?”