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Kejriwal’s Plea for Release from Jail Dismissed by Delhi HC, to Move SC

Kejriwal’s Plea for Release from Jail Dismissed by Delhi HC, to Move SC

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Manas Dasgupta

NEW DELHI, Apr 9: The Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal will have to spend more time in jail as the High Court on Tuesday dismissed his plea challenging his arrest in a money laundering case linked with the alleged liquor policy scam.

Justice Swarana Kanta Sharma pronouncing the order said the Aam Aadmi Party national convenor’s arrest by the Enforcement Directorate cannot be termed as ‘illegal.’ “The court is of the view that the arrest of Arvind Kejriwal was not in contravention of legal provisions. The remand can’t be held to be illegal,” said Justice Sharma.

Within hours of the high court verdict, the AAP responded confirming that it would move the Supreme Court against the High Court’s order.

The ED was able to place enough material in the shape of Hawala dealers, statements of approvers, and statements of their own candidates who referred to the act that he was given money in cash for expenditure in Goa elections, the High Court said while dismissing Mr Kejriwal’s plea. The court noted that the ED had submitted material to suggest the AAP leader had conspired to formulate the now-scrapped policy and was involved in demanding alleged kickbacks of ₹ 100 crore, some of which was used to fund campaign expenses for the 2022 Goa election.

The bench of Justice Sharma said the ED was in possession of enough material, which led them to arrest Mr Kejriwal. The non-joining of the investigation by Mr Kejriwal and, delay caused by him were also impacting those in judicial custody.

The material collected by the Enforcement Directorate reveals that Arvind Kejriwal conspired and was actively involved in the use and concealment of proceeds of crime. The ED case also reveals that he was involved in his personal capacity as well as the convenor of the AAP. The court further stated that it was of the opinion that the accused had been arrested and his arrest and remand have to be examined as per law and not as per the timing of elections. Mr Kejriwal’s challenge to the timing of arrest before General elections in the absence of any mala fide on the part of ED was not sustainable, said the court.

In his plea before the High Court, Mr Kejriwal had questioned the “timing” of his arrest by the agency and said it was in contravention of the basic structure of the Constitution, including democracy, free and fair elections and level playing field. The ED has opposed the plea and contended that Mr Kejriwal cannot claim “immunity” from arrest on the grounds of upcoming elections as law is applied equally to him and an “aam aadmi.

Mr Kejriwal was arrested by the ED on March 21 after the high court refused to grant him protection from coercive action by the federal anti-money laundering agency. He was sent to the judicial custody on April 1 for 15 days after the expiry of his ED custody.

The court also noted the ED’s submission of statements by approvers (accused turned government witnesses) and an AAP Goa candidate claiming he had been paid with the alleged kickbacks. Reading out the verdict – scheduled for 2:30 pm and then delayed to 3:15 pm – the court took a dim view of Mr Kejriwal’s arguments from April 3, in which he questioned approvers’ statements.

The court said doubting grant of pardon to accused (in exchange for information implicating other accused) “amounts to casting aspersions on the judicial process”. “The law is over 100 years old… it is not a one-year-old law falsely enacted to implicate the petitioner,” the court said sternly.

Last week, senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi argued, “… in first statements there will be nothing against me. Some are arrested and, for first time, they give a statement against me and get bail. Then they get pardon and become approver.”

The Delhi High Court, though, noted that Mr Kejriwal would have an opportunity to inspect and question all such documents, but at “the appropriate stage”. “… this is not that stage,” it said.

The court also shot down questions over the timing of the arrest. Mr Kejriwal and the AAP have alleged the arrest was timed for just before the Lok Sabha election – to side-line the party’s senior-most leaders, including the Chief Minister, and disrupt campaign plans.

“‘Level playing field’ (before an election) is not just a phrase. It is part of ‘free and fair elections’ which is part of a democratic structure. This case reeks of timing issues,” Mr Singhvi said. “What is this urgency? I am not talking about politics… I am talking about law,” he continued, arguing the arrest was meant to “demolish AAP before first vote is cast.” The court, though, said the probe agency acted irrespective of the election dates. It also noted that Mr Kejriwal – who skipped multiple summons, dating back to October – would have known that the election was fast-approaching and, therefore, would have had limited time to join the investigation.

“Political considerations can’t be brought before a court of law… the matter before this court is not a conflict between the central government and Arvind Kejriwal. It is a case between Arvind Kejriwal and the ED,” Justice Sharma said.

The court said the judges were bound by law and not by politics. Judgments were written by legal principles and not political affiliations, the High Court said. Political considerations can’t be brought before a court of law. “The matter before this court is not a conflict between the central government and Arvind Kejriwal but between him and the ED. Courts are concerned with constitutional morality and not political morality,” the court said.

Dismissal of the petition sparked a heated exchange between the rival parties, with BJP MP Manoj Tiwari posting on X, “A criminal is a criminal. The verdict has shown the mirror to AAP’s gang leader…” Responding for the AAP, Delhi Health Minister Saurabh Bhardwaj pointed out, again, that neither the ED nor the Central Bureau of Investigation had found any of the alleged bribe money.

Arvind Kejriwal and two of his colleagues, including former Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, have been arrested in connection with alleged kickbacks from the now-scrapped liquor policy. The ED believes the policy provided an impossibly high profit margin of nearly 185 per cent for retailers and 12 per cent for wholesalers. Of the latter, six per cent was to be recovered by the AAP as bribes, which amounted to over ₹ 600 crore. This was then allegedly used as poll expenses.

Mr Kejriwal and the AAP have repeatedly denied all the allegations. They have claimed a political conspiracy against the Chief Minister, who is a high-profile member of the INDIA opposition bloc.

Dismissal of Mr Kejriwal’s petition sparked a heated exchange between the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the BJP. While the AAP alleged a political conspiracy to destroy AAP governments in Delhi and Punjab, the BJP said the ruling party in the national capital “stands exposed” and that Mr Kejriwal is the “kingpin.”

Shortly after the high court’s ruling, Manoj Tiwari, BJP MP and the party’s prominent leader in Delhi, posted on X, “A criminal is a criminal. Everyone in the country has to follow India’s laws. The court’s verdict has shown the mirror to AAP’s gang leader. Evidence gathered by ED proves that Arvind Kejriwal is the kingpin. AAP stands exposed.”

BJP spokesperson Shazia Ilmi said the money trail has been established and that there was a lot of evidence against AAP leaders. BJP’s Sudhanshu Trivedi said the high court’s ruling has “shattered AAP’s vanity” on factual grounds. “The self-styled kattar imaandar (honest) has been shredded,” he said. Targeting the AAP leader for skipping repeated summons, Mr Trivedi accused him of trying to take the judicial process to a political threshold ahead of the Lok Sabha polls.

Hitting back, Mr Bhardwaj said the ED and the CBI did not even find a rupee during their searches in connection with the Delhi liquor policy case. “They are talking about crores. But ED and CBI have not found even a rupee of illegal money. Witnesses have been pressured to change their statements and say what ED wants them to,” he said. “This issue is not about money laundering. This is the biggest political conspiracy in India’s history,” he said.




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