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SC issues notice on plea seeking review of PMLA verdict, says two issues need reconsideration

Top court says two issues needed reconsideration-- the aspect of not providing the ECIR or complaint to the accused, and the reversal of presumption of innocence.

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday issued a notice to the Centre on Congress MP Karti Chidambaram’s petition seeking a review of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) judgement passed on 27 July.

A three-judge bench led by Chief Justice N.V. Ramana said only two aspects needed to be looked into and required reconsideration – one, not providing to the accused the copy of the ECIR (Enforcement Case Investigation Report) or the complaint — which becomes the basis of probe into money-laundering; and two, the reversal of presumption of innocence.

“We are completely in support of the prevention of blackmoney and its accumulation. The country cannot afford this kind of offence. Your objections are on procedural aspects. For us two areas need to be looked into,” the bench told senior advocate Kapil Sibal, while issuing the notice.

Chidambaram has sought a review of the top court’s 27 July judgement, upholding the constitutional validity of the stringent PMLA law, which legal experts say gives sweeping powers to the probe agency, Enforcement Directorate, to search, seize and arrest the alleged violator during a money-laundering inquiry.

The hearing Thursday came a day after the top court decided to hear Chidambaram’s review plea in open court.

Review petitions are usually heard in chambers by the bench that delivers the original verdict and only in rare cases such a plea is heard in open court.

The bench that delivered the controversial judgement comprised justices A.M. Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari and C.T. Ravikumar. Justice Khanwilkar, who led the bench, retired from the top court on 29 July. For this reason, the review plea was taken up on Wednesday by a bench led by CJI Ramana.

A three-judge bench headed by CJI Ramana on 23 August had raised doubts over the PMLA verdict.

While delivering a judgement that declared the Benami Transactions Prohibition Act, 2016, as a substantive law and barred its implementation retrospectively, the court had expressed concern over the order allowing authorities to carry out provisional attachment of properties of those facing criminal trial under specific scheduled offences. This seizure, as per the law — upheld by the top court — can happen before the trial in such cases.

Authoring the judgement on the benami law, CJI Ramana said: “Having perused the said judgment (PMLA), we are of the opinion that the aforesaid ratio requires further expounding in an appropriate case, without which much scope is left for arbitrary application.”

In his petition, Chidambaram said the PMLA judgment “deserves to be reviewed on grounds of grave error, being contrary to earlier judgments” of the Supreme Court, including “of Constitution Benches, being contrary to Articles 20 and 21 of the Constitution, being contrary to settled principles of criminal jurisprudence and being per incuriam (lack of due regard for law) on several grounds.”

According to him the bench delivered the PMLA verdict even as it left the moot question unanswered. He said the judgement referred the question of whether amendments in the PMLA law could have been made by way of Money Bills to a larger bench. Without deciding this significant question of law, the court could not have ventured into the aspect of the Act’s constitutionality, Chidambaram has contended.

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