New Delhi: The Supreme Court Tuesday dismissed a plea filed by journalist Rana Ayyub challenging the jurisdiction of a special court in Ghaziabad that took cognizance of a complaint filed against her by the Enforcement Directorate (ED).
The court said that since there is “serious factual dispute” over the places where the offence was committed, this question should be raised before the Ghaziabad court.
The case under the Prevention of Money Laundering (PMLA) Act pertains to funds that Ayyub received via crowdfunding for Covid relief. Ayyub had questioned the Ghaziabad court’s jurisdiction, asserting that since the money was received in an account maintained in Navi Mumbai, only the special court in Maharashtra could have taken cognizance of the complaint.
In response, the ED had argued that people from several places, including Uttar Pradesh, had contributed to her crowdfund, and therefore the Ghaziabad court would have jurisdiction.
Rejecting Ayyub’s petition, the bench comprising justices V. Ramasubramanian and J.B. Pardiwala discussed section 3 of the PMLA, which defines the offence of money laundering and lists the activities that amount to participation or involvement in the offence.
The court said that a person may acquire the proceeds of a crime in one place, keep it in their possession in another place, conceal it in a third place, and use it in a fourth place. It asserted that under the law, any of these could be the area in which the offence of money laundering has been committed.
The court then noted that while Ayyub took possession of the alleged proceeds of crime in Navi Mumbai, this is only one place where one of the different processes or activities listed in Section 3 were carried out.
It said that the other activity — acquisition of the alleged proceeds of crime — has taken place in the virtual mode with people from different parts of the country or the world transferring money online.
The court, therefore, observed that the question of territorial jurisdiction in this case requires an inquiry into questions such as where the alleged proceeds of crime were concealed or possessed or acquired or used. It said that since there is a serious factual dispute about the places of commission of the alleged offence, Ayyub can raise such jurisdictional questions before the special court in Ghaziabad instead.
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In the years 2020-21, Ayyub began crowdfunding online through a platform called Ketto for Covid-19 relief, according to the SC judgment. She ran three fundraising campaigns from April 2020 to September 2021.
In September 2021, an FIR was filed at Uttar Pradesh’s Ghaziabad Police by Vikas Sankrityayan, who is the founder of an NGO called Hindu IT Cell and a resident of Indirapuram in Ghaziabad. It alleged that Ayyub had illegally acquired over Rs 2.69 crore through the crowdfunding activities. The FIR was registered under Indian Penal Code (IPC) sections 403 (misappropriation of property), 406 (criminal breach of trust), 418 (cheating), 420 (cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property), section 66D (cheating by personation by using computer resource) of the IT Act, and the Black Money Act.
On the basis of this FIR, the Delhi Zone-II Office of the Directorate of Enforcement registered a complaint against Ayyub in November 2021 in the Ghaziabad court. This court passed an order on 29 November 2022, taking cognizance of the complaint and asking her to appear before it.
Last month, Ayyub had then challenged this summoning order on the ground that the Ghaziabad court did not have territorial jurisdiction to take cognizance of the complaint. When her petition came up on 25 January, the Supreme Court asked the Ghaziabad court to adjourn the proceedings scheduled for 27 January, to a date after 31 January. The apex court then reserved its judgment on Ayyub’s petition on 31 January.
Ayyub submitted that under Section 44(1) of the PMLA, an offence under the law can be tried only by a special court in the area in which the offence has been committed. She had, therefore, asserted that only the special court in Maharashtra could have taken cognizance of the complaint against her, because the bank account where the money was received is located in Navi Mumbai, Maharashtra.
In response, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the ED, told the court that Ayyub had received money through an online crowdfunding platform, and so, there were several alleged victims within the jurisdiction of Ghaziabad court who contributed money.
(Edited by Anumeha Saxena)
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