Reconciling the jurisdiction: Harmonizing Insolvency proceedings and Anti-Money laundering efforts in India’s legal landscape  


The intersection of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) and the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) represents a significant legal conundrum in India. Both legislative frameworks serve distinct but crucial purposes—IBC aims to resolve insolvency and bankruptcy cases in a time-bound manner to promote economic stability, while PMLA targets the prevention and control of money laundering. However, their overlapping jurisdiction has led to numerous legal conflicts and interpretative challenges. The intersection of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) and the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) in India has led to significant jurisdictional conflicts, posing challenges for stakeholders and the legal system. The IBC, enacted to streamline and expedite insolvency resolution, often clashes with the PMLA’s mandate to combat money laundering and financial crimes. This conundrum arises when assets under insolvency proceedings are simultaneously subjected to PMLA’s attachment orders, creating a legal and procedural deadlock. The Supreme Court and various tribunals have been pivotal in interpreting these conflicts, yet a clear precedence remains elusive. This paper examines the legal frameworks of both statutes, analysing key case laws and judicial pronouncements that highlight the jurisdictional overlap and its implications. It also explores the potential for harmonization through legislative amendments or judicial guidelines to ensure coherent application without undermining either law’s objectives. By scrutinizing the operational challenges and proposing strategic solutions, this analysis aims to contribute to a more integrated approach, balancing the objectives of insolvency resolution and anti-money laundering efforts in India.

Keywords: Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC), Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), Jurisdiction conflict, Legal conundrum, Corporate insolvency resolution, Financial regulations, Legal framework, Cross-jurisdictional issues, Debt recovery, Insolvency proceedings, Enforcement Directorate (ED), Adjudicating authority Asset attachment, Creditors’ rights, Legal ambiguity, Judicial interpretation, Economic offences, Financial distress,  Bankruptcy laws in India, Corporate debt restructuring, Insolvency professionals, Legal precedents, Conflict resolution, Financial crimes, Insolvency jurisprudence.


The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) and the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) represent two critical legislative frameworks in India aimed at addressing insolvency and financial crimes, respectively. On the other hand, the PMLA was enacted in the year 2002 to prevent money laundering and confiscate the proceeds of crime. It provides for the attachment of property and freezing of assets of a person being investigated for an offence under the Act. In practice, law enforcement agencies have used the provisions of the PMLA to attach the assets of corporate debtors who are also being investigated for money laundering offences. However, the overlap between these two statutes has given rise to significant legal and practical challenges, resulting in what is commonly referred to as the IBC-PMLA conundrum. The IBC, enacted in 2016, seeks to consolidate and amend laws relating to the reorganization and insolvency resolution of corporate persons, partnership firms, and individuals in a time-bound manner to maximize the value of assets and promote entrepreneurship. On the other hand, the PMLA, established in 2002, aims to prevent money laundering and provide for the confiscation of property derived from, or involved in, money laundering. The crux of the conflict lies in the contrasting objectives and procedures of these two laws: while the IBC focuses on the revival of distressed businesses and equitable distribution of assets, the PMLA is geared towards penalizing financial misconduct and seizing assets involved in illicit activities. This clash of jurisdictions poses a dilemma for stakeholders, particularly insolvency professionals and enforcement agencies, as they navigate the legal landscape to prioritize asset distribution and penal measures. The ambiguity regarding which law takes precedence complicates insolvency proceedings when assets under consideration are tainted with allegations of money laundering. Consequently, the resolution of this conundrum is crucial for ensuring legal clarity, protecting stakeholder interests, and maintaining the integrity of India’s financial and legal systems. Further, the addition of Section 32A to the IBC, has given this issue a new dimension.

The new provision aims to encourage resolution applicants to take over distressed companies without fear of being prosecuted for offences committed by the previous management. However, it is unclear how Section 32A would affect the attachment of property under the PMLA during the moratorium period. Recently, the Hon’ble Apex Court has taken cognizance of the matter in the case of Ashok Kumar Sarawagi v. Enforcement Directorate 2023. Till the Apex court pronounces its decision, we will examine the legal position on the issue and analyse the relevant provisions of the IBC and the PMLA, as well as the decisions of courts and tribunals in this piece. We will also evaluate the practical implications of the issue on the insolvency resolution process and the interests of creditors, as well as the impact of the issue on the larger policy objectives of the IBC and the PMLA.

The Objectives and Frameworks

Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC):

Enacted in 2016, the IBC consolidates laws relating to insolvency and bankruptcy, creating a unified legal framework for resolving insolvency in a time-bound manner. Its primary objective is to maximize the value of the debtor’s assets, promote entrepreneurship, and balance the interests of all stakeholders. Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA): The PMLA, enacted in 2002, aims to combat money laundering and provide for confiscation of property derived from or involved in money laundering. The Enforcement Directorate (ED) is the primary agency responsible for investigating offenses under the PMLA. The primary clash between IBC and PMLA arises from their differing priorities. The IBC focuses on the rehabilitation of the debtor and equitable distribution of assets, while the PMLA emphasizes the confiscation of tainted assets and punishing the offenders involved in money laundering activities. This fundamental difference creates several specific points of conflict Asset Freezing and Attachment Under the PMLA, the ED has the authority to attach properties involved in money laundering. These attachments often include assets of companies undergoing insolvency proceedings under the IBC. The attachment of assets impedes the resolution process envisaged under the IBC, leading to delays and complexities in asset distribution. Moratorium Under IBC: Section 14 of the IBC imposes a moratorium, which halts all legal proceedings against the debtor’s assets during the insolvency resolution process. However, the ED’s actions under PMLA often disregard this moratorium, leading to legal battles over jurisdictional supremacy.

Jurisdictional Overlap:

Insolvency proceedings under IBC are supervised by the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT), while offenses under PMLA are adjudicated by the Adjudicating Authority constituted under the PMLA. This duality of jurisdictions often leads to conflicting orders, further complicating the resolution process. IBC seeks to resolve insolvency and maximize asset value for creditors through a structured resolution process PMLA empowers the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to attach and confiscate properties involved in money laundering activities, which may overlap with the assets under insolvency proceedings. IBC: Enacted in 2016, the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code aims to consolidate and amend laws relating to reorganization and insolvency resolution of corporate persons, partnership firms, and individuals in a time-bound manner for maximization of value of assets. PMLA: The Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002, aims to prevent money laundering and to provide for confiscation of property derived from or involved in money laundering and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.

Enforcement Directorate (ED): The ED is responsible for investigating offences related to money laundering and enforcing the PMLA. Adjudicating Authority: An authority appointed under the PMLA adjudicates matters related to attachment and confiscation of properties involved in money laundering. Appellate Tribunal: An Appellate Tribunal hears appeals against orders of the Adjudicating Authority. High Court: Appeals against the orders of the Appellate Tribunal can be made to the jurisdictional High Court. While the IBC and PMLA serve different purposes, their jurisdictions can overlap in certain situations, particularly where financial crimes and insolvency intersect: Attachment of Assets: During insolvency proceedings under the IBC, if assets are found to be involved in money laundering, the ED may attach these assets under the PMLA. This can complicate the insolvency resolution process. Coordination between Authorities: There may be a need for coordination between the NCLT, which handles insolvency resolution, and the ED, which handles money laundering cases. In some cases, courts have had to intervene to resolve conflicts between the attachment of assets by the ED and the resolution processes under the IBC.

Legislative Amendments:

Amending both IBC and PMLA to clearly define the extent and limits of their respective jurisdictions can help reduce conflicts. Clarifying the interplay between the moratorium under IBC and the attachment powers under PMLA is essential. Establishing a coordination mechanism between the ED and the Insolvency Professionals (IPs) can ensure smoother resolution processes. Joint efforts can help balance the objectives of both laws without compromising on their core mandates.

Jurisdiction and Authorities:

National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT): The NCLT is the adjudicating authority for companies and limited liability partnerships (LLPs) under the IBC.

Debt Recovery Tribunal (DRT): For individuals and partnership firms, the DRT is the adjudicating authority.

National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT): Appeals against NCLT orders can be filed with the NCLAT.

Supreme Court of India: Appeals against (NCLAT) orders can be filed with the Supreme Court of India.

Judicial Interpretation:

The Supreme Court can play a pivotal role by laying down comprehensive guidelines to address the overlapping areas between IBC and PMLA. Clear judicial precedents can provide lower courts and tribunals with the necessary framework to handle such conflicts.

Supreme Court of India:

Lalit Kumar Jain vs. Union of India (2021): The Supreme Court upheld the supremacy of the IBC over other conflicting laws in matters related to insolvency resolution. The Court emphasized that once a moratorium is declared under Section 14 of IBC, it prohibits the initiation or continuation of any legal action or proceeding against the corporate debtor, including under PMLA.

Embassy Property Developments Pvt. Ltd. vs. State of Karnataka (2019): The Supreme Court clarified that statutory authorities cannot act in a manner that defeats the resolution process under IBC. The Court ruled that the adjudicating authority under the IBC has the power to decide the legality of actions taken by other statutory authorities, including the ED under PMLA.

National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT)

Varrsana Ispat Ltd. vs. Deputy Director, Directorate of Enforcement (2019): NCLAT held that the attachment of properties by the ED under PMLA cannot continue once a moratorium under IBC is in place. The judgment reinforced that the IBC aims to preserve the corporate debtor as a going concern and hence any attachment by the ED would hamper the resolution process.

Bank of India vs. Deputy Director, Directorate of Enforcement (2020): NCLAT reaffirmed its stance that properties attached under PMLA cannot be excluded from the moratorium imposed under IBC. The tribunal noted that the resolution professional has the right to take control of all assets, including those attached under PMLA, to ensure effective resolution.


The clash of jurisdiction between the IBC and PMLA is an evolving challenge in the Indian legal landscape. While both laws serve critical functions, their intersection necessitates a nuanced approach to avoid protracted legal battles and ensure both economic stability and the integrity of financial systems. Through legislative clarity, coordinated enforcement, and judicial guidance, a balanced resolution to the IBC-PMLA conundrum can be achieved, fostering a more robust legal framework for handling insolvency and financial crimes in India. The conflict between IBC and PMLA represents a classic case of jurisdictional overlap, reflecting the challenges in harmonizing economic and criminal laws. Judicial interpretations have so far leaned towards ensuring that insolvency resolution under IBC is not derailed by actions under PMLA, thus maintaining the primary objective of asset maximization and creditor protection. Going forward, a balanced approach that respects the intents of both laws, possibly through legislative amendments and inter-agency cooperation, is crucial for a cohesive legal framework. The interplay between the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) and the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) presents a complex legal conundrum in India, primarily revolving around the conflict of jurisdiction and priorities between insolvency proceedings and anti-money laundering measures. The IBC, enacted in 2016, aims to consolidate and amend laws relating to reorganization and insolvency resolution of corporate persons, partnership firms, and individuals in a time-bound manner to maximize the value of assets. Its primary goal is to ensure the revival and continuation of the debtor company by protecting it from its creditors and providing an equitable distribution of assets. Conversely, the PMLA, 2002, seeks to combat money laundering and provide for confiscation of property derived from or involved in money laundering. The PMLA empowers authorities to attach and confiscate properties involved in money laundering, regardless of any proceedings under other laws.

 The friction arises when assets of a company undergoing insolvency under the IBC are simultaneously attached or confiscated under the PMLA. Courts have had to navigate the delicate balance between the creditors’ rights under the IBC and the state’s interest in curbing money laundering under the PMLA. The National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) often find themselves at loggerheads, leading to uncertainty and delays in insolvency resolution. Recent judicial interpretations suggest that the IBC should prevail over the PMLA in cases of conflict. The rationale is that the primary objective of the IBC is the revival of the debtor and maximizing asset value, which could be undermined if assets are indiscriminately confiscated under the PMLA. However, this precedence does not negate the importance of the PMLA but rather emphasizes the need for a harmonious interpretation where both statutes can operate without encroaching upon each other’s domains. The resolution of the IBC-PMLA conundrum requires a nuanced approach that respects the objectives of both laws. Harmonious interpretation, guided by judicial oversight, is essential to ensure that insolvency proceedings are not unduly hampered by anti-money laundering actions, and vice versa, thus fostering a balanced legal framework that supports both economic revival and financial integrity.

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