New Delhi: A technical issue of jurisdiction today came in the way of arrested businessman Gautam Khaitan who failed to get any immediate relief from a Delhi court in a case lodged by the ED on allegations of kickbacks in the Rs 3,600-crore AgustaWestland chopper deal.
The issue of jurisdiction and power of a court to hear Khaitan's bail application in the case lodged by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) under provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) cropped up when his plea came up for hearing.
As his plea was taken up for hearing by Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Sanjay Khanagwal, who had earlier remanded him in ED's custody, advocate Naveen Kumar Matta, appearing for the agency, said that under provisions of the PMLA, only a special court has the power to hear the bail application.
“Bail plea should be considered by the special court only. This is our preliminary objection on the bail plea,” he said, adding that for the purpose of remand, court of the CMM was competent to decide.
ED's contentions, however, were opposed by senior advocate Siddharth Luthra, who appeared for Khaitan, saying that when remand of the accused was given by this court, then why it can not hear the bail application.
“If remand order is not sustainable as it was not given by a special court, then I (Khaitan) should be released now. This court has given remand on the request of ED and now they (ED) cannot say that this court cannot consider the bail plea and it should be heard only by a special court,” he argued.
Senior advocate P V Kapur, also appearing for Khaitan, said, “This contention by ED is immature... The custody granted earlier, whether it was ED custody or judicial custody, was illegal.”
He added that there was no provision that the CMM cannot consider the bail plea.
After hearing the arguments, CMM Khanagwal referred the case to the district judge, who was on leave today, to decide on the issue of jurisdiction for hearing bail plea and giving remand.
During the day, Khaitan was produced in the court after expiry of two-day judicial custody and his remand was extended by two days by Additional Sessions Judge Reetesh Singh, to whom the case was marked by the officiating district judge.
The sessions court also referred the matter to the district judge for October 9 to decide on the issue of jurisdiction to hear the bail plea and granting remand of the accused in the case.
During the hearing before ASJ Singh, the defence counsel argued that Khaitan is a lawyer and he has been picked up while no other accused have been arrested by ED in the case. The counsel also sought interim bail of Khaitan for two days on medical grounds which was opposed by ED. ED's counsel said, “If we go on the merits, there are lots of material against this accused. I am strongly opposing the plea for bail or interim bail.”
Khaitan was earlier sent to judicial custody till today after ED submitted that he was not required for further custodial interrogation.
ED had earlier alleged in the court that Rs 360 crore was paid as kickbacks in the entire deal.
In his plea, Khaitan said he should be enlarged on bail as he has always cooperated during the investigation and there was no apprehension that he would flee from justice. ED submitted that Khaitan was on board of Chandigarh-based company Aeromatrix which was allegedly a front firm for the financial dealings in the chopper deal.
Khaitan was arrested under provisions of the PMLA by ED which had lodged a case in July this year against Khaitan, former IAF chief S P Tyagi and 19 others in the VVIP chopper deal case to probe alleged kickbacks.
ED had earlier said Khaitan was one of the directors in Aeromatrix and he had resigned from the post after the Italian police started its probe into the chopper deal. It said a reference to Khaitan was also reportedly made in the Italian prosecutor's report filed in a court in Italy. He was earlier questioned by CBI in this case. ED had registered a case in this deal under PMLA, taking cognisance of a more-than-a-year-old CBI FIR.
ED has booked Tyagi, his family members, European nationals Carlo Gerosa, Christian Michel and Guido Haschke, four firms—Italy-based Finmeccanica, UK-based AgustaWestland and Chandigarh-based IDS Infotech and Aeromatrix, two companies based in Mauritius and Tunisia, few other firms and unknown persons in its criminal complaint.
The supply of 12 VVIP helicopters from AgustaWestland came under the scanner after the Italian authorities alleged that bribe was paid by the company to clinch the deal. The Italian prosecutor who carried out the preliminary inquiry alleged that CEO of Finmeccanica, the parent company of UK-based AgustaWestland, had used the services of middlemen to bribe Indian officials.