The Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Wednesday told the Supreme Court that investigations in connection with foreign assets of jailed ex- Unitech promoter Sanjay Chandra in the British Virgin Island, Singapore, Mauritius, and the UAE, have “come to a dead end”, as his wife – who was actively involved in huge money-laundering operations – has refused to cooperate.
Additional Solicitor General Madhavi Divan, representing the ED, submitted before a bench headed by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud that Preeti Chandra, wife of Sanjay Chandra, was operating the TriKar group, which has been named after the couple’s children, from the UAE, and is fully aware of everything – which includes structuring and layering of various transactions involved in money laundering.
The ED had told the top court that Preeti Chandra was an active participant in concealing and laundering proceeds of crime to the tune of around Rs 400 crore through shell companies under the name of TriKar Group, having entities in these tax haven countries of British Virgin Island, Singapore, Mauritius, and UAE.
Divan added that in connection with foreign assets (British Virgin Island, Singapore, Mauritius, and the UAE), many are in non-contracting states. “We are at a dead end… we need to bring back assets, but it is only possible with her cooperation… she also acquired a Dominican passport and she is a flight risk. Her children are abroad,” the ASG submitted before the bench, also comprising Justice M.R. Shah.
Divan contended that Preeti Chandra was involved in influencing the witnesses in the case, dissipating the assets, and also played a role in Tihar jail episode, where officials helped exchange vital information for dissipating crime proceeds between her and her jailed husband.
She added that both the Chandra brothers and Preeti Chandra are not cooperating, which has become a major hurdle in the ongoing investigation, and also pointed out that some assets were mentioned in the Pandora paper leaks.
“We have some leads, but we need some cooperation”, she added, flagging non-cooperation from the accused.
Senior advocate Sidharth Dave, representing Preeti Chandra, said his client has been in custody since October 9 last year and she wasn’t called by the investigating agency, as he questioned the ED’s claim on non-cooperation.
He added that his client moved the top court seeking permission to apply for bail, and if she is denied that, then it is a violation of the Constitution’s Article 21.
Dave also argued that the special judge told his client that to apply for bail, she should get clarification from the apex court. He added that the ED is assuming that she will get bail and added, “it is impossible to get bail. Let me apply for bail”.
Divan vociferously opposed this contention and raised the issue of her non-cooperation in connection with foreign assets. After hearing arguments, the top court sought a status report from the ED and scheduled the matter for further hearing in July.
The ED had earlier told the apex court that a substantial amount of the proceeds of crime are still lying outside India in ‘benami’ concerns such as TriKar group.
On April 20, the Supreme Court asked the ED to propose steps to bring back home buyers money amounting to Rs 5,000 crore diverted to tax havens, which was revealed in a forensic audit.
Preeti Chandra was arrested in connection with the money laundering case registered by ED in 2018 against the ex-Unitech promoters. In March last year, she was arrested from the airport while trying to escape.