PMLA order: Supreme Court agrees to relook its verdict on stringent law

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The Supreme Court on Thursday agreed to reconsider its Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) judgment and held that prima facie some parts of the order need to be reviewed.

“We have concerns on the Supreme Court judgment upholding PMLA not allowing a copy of the ECIR to the accused. Also, placing the burden of evidence on the accused may need to reconsider,” a bench of Chief Justice NV Ramana and Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and CT Ravikumar said.

The Centre has opposed the review of the PMLA order saying the laws have to be in compliance with India’s global commitments. “Tinkering with the law will have global repercussions for India,” the Centre told the apex court.

The court reiterated that there was no need for elaborate argument, but some issues need a relook. “We are completely in support of prevention of black money or money laundering. Country cannot afford such an offence. The object is noble,” the court said.

The top court was hearing an application of Congress MP Karti Chidambaram, seeking an open court hearing of his petition to review the top court’s verdict upholding the Enforcement Directorate’s (ED) powers of relating to arrest, investigation, and attachment of property under the PMLA.

Chidambaram has also filed an application seeking a stay of the operation of the July 27, verdict. In his review petition, he has said that the verdict has an error apparent and is against the provisions of the Constitution.

The apex court had on Tuesday in a verdict on the application of provisions of Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Amendment Act, 2016 observed that the judgement on the ED’s powers under the PMLA to take possession of a property before trial in exceptional cases leaves scope for arbitrary application. A three-judge bench has said that the ratio concerning Section 8(4) laid down by the PMLA judgment needs further explanation.

In its July 27 verdict, the apex court has said that the direction under Section 8(4) for taking possession of the property in question before a formal order of confiscation is passed should be an exception and not a rule. Section 8(4) allows the ED to take possession of the attached property at the stage of confirmation of provisional attachment made by the adjudicating authority.

On July 27, the top court upheld the ED’s powers relating to arrest, attachment of property involved in money laundering, and search and seizure under the PMLA that were challenged by multiple petitioners including politician Karti Chidambaram. Observing that it is a common experience world over that money laundering can be a “threat” to the good functioning of a financial system, the apex court upheld the validity of certain provisions of the PMLA, underlining it is not an “ordinary offence”.

The court had passed the verdict on a batch of over 200 petitions filed by individuals and other entities questioning various provisions of the PMLA, a law which the opposition has often claimed has been weaponised by the government to harass its political adversaries.

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