‘Can’t hold it illegal’, SC on Manik Bhattacharya arrest by ED in WB teachers’ recruitment scam

The Supreme Court on Thursday declined to interfere with the arrest of Trinamool Congress leader and West Bengal Board of Primary Education’s former Chairman Manik Bhattacharya by Enforcement Directorate (ED) in connection with the money laundering matter regarding the teachers’ appointment scam.

Dismissing Bhattacharya’s plea, a bench of Justices Aniruddha Bose and Vikram Nath said: “We cannot hold the arrest of the petitioner by the Enforcement Directorate illegal as the issue of money laundering or there being proceeds of crime had not surfaced before the Single Judge or the Division Bench of the High Court.”

During the hearing, Bhattacharya’s counsel, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, had argued that the court had granted him protection from arrest in the CBI matter and it should be extended in the case of the ED. The counsel further argued that Bhattacharya appeared before the ED on every occasion, but they claim that he was not cooperating.

The bench said “while testing the legality of an arrest made by an agency otherwise empowered to take into custody a person against whom such agency considers subsistence of prima facie evidence of money laundering, we do not think a general protective order directed at another investigating agency could have insulated the petitioner from any coercive action in another proceeding started by a different agency, even if there are factual similarities vis-a-vis the allegations”.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the ED, had opposed the extension of protection granted to the Trinamool MLA in the CBI case, to the money laundering probe, saying the ED is an independent agency and investigating the matter separately.

The top court said: “We are also satisfied that the order restraining coercive action being taken against the petitioner passed by us on 27th September 2022, which we have still directed to continue, did not operate to prevent the Enforcement Directorate from carrying on with their investigation into the allegations under the 2002 Act.”

Bhattacharya was arrested earlier this month by the ED in connection with the money laundering matter in the teacher’s appointment scam.

The court also rejected Bhattacharya’s plea to make the ED a party to his petition against the CBI probe ordered by the Calcutta High Court in the matter.

The bench said: “Under the Prevention of Money ALaundering Act, 2002, money laundering is an independent offence and in the event there is any allegation of the ED having acted beyond jurisdiction or their act of arrest is not authorised by law, the petitioner would be entitled to apply before the appropriate court of law independently”.

The top court, on October 18, allowed the CBI to continue its investigation against Bhattacharya in the scam after the arrest of then Education Minister Partha Chatterjee and recovery of a huge amount of illicit money.

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