Orissa High Court Denies Bail To Accused Under PMLA Citing Flight Risk; Orders Conclusion Of Trial Within Six Months

In the case of Mohammad Arif v. Enforcement Directorate (BLAPL No. 8882 of 2021), the Orissa High Court denied bail to an accused under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) citing ‘flight risk’. However, it ordered the Trial Court to expedite and conclude the trial preferably within a period of six months.

Factual Background: M/s Fine Industrious Pvt. Ltd. (FIPL) had collected a huge amount from the general public. FIPL transferred the amount to M/s Eva Industries and in turn Eva Industries transferred some amount to M/s Great Entertainment and the said M/s Great Entertainment transferred an amount of Rs. 25 Crores to the company of the accused namely M/s Lemon Entertainment Ltd., in which the petitioner is a director, having 8.87% share. The petitioner had withdrawn Rs. 1.5 Crores through self-cheque. For the same, he was prosecuted under the PMLA. In the meantime, the prosecution had also filed one supplementary/additional complaint petition on 10.01.2020, before the trial court. The petitioner being in custody in connection with the case pending before the court of Sessions Judge-cum-Special Judge under PMLA, Khurda, Bhubaneswar, registered for the alleged commission of offence under Sections 3 and 4 of PMLA, had filed this application under Section 439, Cr.P.C. for his release on bail.

Mr. S.P. Mishra, Senior Advocate appearing for the petitioner, contended that the involvement of the petitioner is limited to withdrawal of Rs. 1.5 Crore through self-cheque, which he has utilised for his company and the details of such account has already been stated during his custodial interrogation. Further, he submitted that the petitioner has already been examined/ interrogated by Enforcement Directorate (ED) authority and that all the documents relating to the company of the petitioner have already been seized by the CBI. Additionally, it was also pointed out that the petitioner has always cooperated with the investigation of the case with CBI, and also with ED authority. Furthermore, he submitted, there is absolutely no progress in the case relating to the petitioner either by the ED or by the Trial Court from the date of his arrest and in the meantime, almost 21 months have elapsed the petitioner being in custody. Therefore, he prayed to release the accused on bail.

Mr. Gopal Agarwal, counsel for the ED, vehemently opposed the bail prayer on the grounds that there is sufficient evidence against the petitioner. He contended that having regard for the nature and gravity of the offence, the position and status of the accused with reference to the victims who are common gullible citizens, who have lost their money and further, there being a likelihood of fleeing from justice, the petitioner deserves no mercy by way of grant of the bail.

Judgement: The Court considered the nature and gravity of the accusation, character of evidence appearing against the petitioner, the stringent punishment prescribed and that there being no reasonable grounds to believe that the petitioner has no role in the offence alleged or not likely to commit any such offence, the prayer for bail was declared devoid of any merit. Accordingly, the application for bail stood rejected. Reliance was placed on decision of the Supreme Court in P. Chidambaram vs Directorate Of Enforcement, which held that economic offences require systematic and analysed investigation and in such cases interrogation would elude if the accused knows that he is protected by a bail order. However, before parting with the order, the Court directed the Trial Court to expedite the trial and take steps to complete the trial preferably within a period of six months from the date of this order.

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