Bombay HC begins hearing former minister Anil Deshmukh’s bail plea after SC seeks expeditious disposal

The Bombay High Court on Tuesday began hearing a bail plea by former Maharashtra home minister Anil Deshmukh in connection with a money laundering case by Enforcement Directorate (ED).

The Supreme Court on Monday had directed the Bombay High Court to hear and decide Deshmukh’s plea expeditiously and noted that the same was pending in the high court since March 21.

While Deshmukh’s counsel concluded his arguments on Tuesday, the ED’s lawyer will begin arguments on Wednesday.

Deshmukh had moved the high court after the special Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) court in March this year rejected his bail plea holding that there is prima facie proof to indicate that he had exercised “undue influence” over transfers and postings of police officers.

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In his bail plea filed through advocates Aniket Nikam and Inderpal Singh, Deshmukh had said that the Centre and state led by the then Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government were at a crossroads, adding that former Mumbai police commissioner Param Bir Singh was apparently warming up to the central agencies and thus has “apparently been given a red carpet welcome and a safe passage.”

Senior advocate Vikram Chaudhari, representing Deshmukh, told a single-judge bench of Justice N J Jamadar that his nearly 72-year-old client has been suffering from various ailments, including lung and spinal disorders, and that the same was taking a “toll on him”.

He added that the applicant does not have past criminal antecedents and is in custody for nearly 11 months and he should not suffer one more day in jail as there are zero proceeds of crime against the applicant. “It is not an open and shut case but it is an opinionated case based on the opinion of the investigating agency,” he argued.

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While Deshmukh’s plea first came up for hearing before a single-judge bench of Justice Anuja S Prabhudesai on March 25, after her assignment changed, the bail application was later listed before Justice Bharati H Dangre, who recused herself from the same on June 9.

When it came up for hearing before Justice N J Jamadar on July 1, and when the judge could not complete the hearing due to assignment change, the same was listed later before Justice Prithviraj K Chavan on July 19.

After a few hearings, Justice Chavan recused himself from hearing the plea on September 5. He directed the court registry to take necessary steps regarding the observations made by the Supreme Court for the expedited hearing of the bail application. The plea was then listed for hearing on September 27 before Justice N J Jamadar.

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During earlier hearings, Chaudhari had told the high court that his client was falsely implicated in the money laundering case and that the “number one”, on whose instructions the alleged extortion amount was collected, was former police chief Param Bir Singh, who has now become a “blue-eyed boy” of the agencies and witness in the case.

Chaudhari had also pointed out that while dismissed police officer Sachin Waze, who is being made an approver in the case, is soon to be let out, Deshmukh, who suffers from multiple ailments and was arrested with “malafide” intention, is languishing in jail for over nine months.

He said that statements of Waze, based on which Deshmukh has been implicated by the agencies, cannot be relied upon as the former cop himself is accused in seven to eight other cases, including a murder charge, adding that his statements lack credibility.

Assured that he will cooperate with the probe, Deshmukh said that since the trial in the ED case is unlikely to commence in near future, he should be released on bail.

Chaudhari added that there is no consistency in the agency’s claims about the amount being extorted and the same ranged from Rs 100 crore to just over Rs 1 crore, adding that it was based on mere presumptions.

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The ED through its affidavit in reply had told the high court that Deshmukh was the “mastermind and brain” in the case and misused his official position to create unaccounted assets.

Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh will begin his arguments for the central agency on Wednesday.