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May 23, 2024

Delhi High Court Denies Bail to Manish Sisodia: Non-Recovery of Cash Not Proof Against Corruption

In a recent ruling, the Delhi High Court emphasized that the non-recovery of cash cannot be considered prima facie proof of the absence of corruption. This decision came while denying bail to Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Manish Sisodia in the ongoing excise policy scam cases. The court underscored that offenders can leverage advanced technology to commit crimes without leaving any physical evidence, thereby complicating the detection of corrupt practices.

Justice Swarana Kanta Sharma dismissed Sisodia’s bail petitions related to the corruption and money laundering charges filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED), respectively. These charges stem from alleged irregularities in the formulation and implementation of the now-defunct Delhi excise policy for 2021-22. The detailed judicial order was made available on the high court’s website the day after the ruling.

The court asserted that the prosecution had established a prima facie case of money laundering under Section 3 of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) against Sisodia. Justice Sharma noted that the recovery of cash from a specific individual is not a mandatory requirement to establish a case of money laundering, particularly when the alleged crime involves a conspiracy among multiple individuals. The court highlighted that the absence of recovered cash does not negate the possibility of corruption, especially given the sophisticated methods offenders may use to obscure their activities.

The judgment characterized the case as involving severe offenses of corruption in public office and money laundering. These crimes, according to the court, strike at the core of economic and social systems, undermining the rule of law and eroding public trust in institutions. The court further remarked on the particularly detrimental impact of such corruption on small and medium-sized enterprises, which are crucial to economic growth and job creation.

The court’s 106-page judgment elaborated on the adverse effects of the new excise policy, which allegedly favored wealthy and powerful individuals at the expense of small business owners. The policy purportedly enabled the creation of a cartel that monopolized the liquor business, marginalizing smaller competitors and exacerbating economic inequality.

Justice Sharma asserted that courts of law serve as obstacles to unchecked corruption, and their role in upholding justice is a victory for the masses. The ruling emphasized the grave misuse of power and breach of public trust by Sisodia, whose actions were deemed a betrayal of democratic principles. The court also noted that Sisodia allegedly engaged in the destruction of crucial evidence, including electronic records, further complicating the investigation.

Sisodia, who held 18 portfolios in the Delhi government, had challenged the trial court’s decision to reject his bail pleas. His counsel argued that the ongoing arrests and extended investigation by the ED and CBI indicated that a quick conclusion of the trial was unlikely. However, both agencies opposed the bail, citing deliberate efforts by the accused to delay the framing of charges.

Manish Sisodia was initially arrested by the CBI on February 26, 2023, for his alleged involvement in the liquor scam. Subsequently, the ED arrested him on March 9, 2023, based on the CBI’s First Information Report (FIR). Following his arrest, Sisodia resigned from his position in the Delhi cabinet on February 28, 2023.

The probe agencies have accused the policy beneficiaries of diverting illegal gains to the accused officials and falsifying their accounting records to avoid detection. The Delhi government’s excise policy, which was implemented on November 17, 2021, was eventually scrapped in September 2022 amid mounting corruption allegations.

This case underscores the complexities involved in prosecuting corruption and money laundering in an era where technological advancements can obscure evidence, challenging traditional methods of investigation and proof.

Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri

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