Non-recovery of cash can’t be proof there wasn't corruption, says HC while denying bail to Sisodia

Manish Sisodia
Manish Sisodia

New Delhi | Non-recovery of cash cannot be a prima facie proof that no corruption has taken place as the offender’s mind uses new technology to commit offences without leaving behind any trace, the Delhi High Court has held while denying bail to AAP leader Manish Sisodia in the excise policy scam cases.

The high court said it cannot accept the argument put forth by Sisodia about non-recovery of cash from him in view of the statements of some hawala dealers and other witnesses recorded during the investigation.

Justice Swarana Kanta Sharma dismissed the bail pleas filed by the former Delhi deputy chief minister in the corruption and money laundering cases lodged by the CBI and ED, respectively, in connection with the alleged liquor scam.

While the two petitions were dismissed on Tuesday, the detailed order was uploaded on the high court’s website on Wednesday.

“This court is of the view that prosecution has made out a prima facie case of commission of money laundering under Section 3 of PMLA against Manish Sisodia, at this stage. It is to be noted at the outset that the requirement of recovery of cash amount from a particular person may not necessarily be a mandatory requirement in a money laundering case where the allegations are of being part of a conspiracy consisting of multiple accused persons,” the high court said.

“In this court’s opinion, non-recovery of any amount of money in cash cannot be a proof prima facie that no corruption has taken place since the offender‘s mind uses the new technology to commit offences without leaving traces of commission of offences,” it said.

The court observed that the case involves commission of "serious offence" of corruption in public office and money laundering.

These offences "strike at the heart of our economic and social systems, undermining the rule of law and eroding public trust in our institutions", it said.

“Moreover, the form of corruption which has the tendency of stealing the legitimate resources of the poor ordinary people and giving it to the rich can be one of the worst forms of corruption,” the high court said in a 106-page judgment.

The court said small and medium-sized enterprises, which are managed by common people and are the backbone of economic growth and job creation, are particularly vulnerable to the detrimental impacts of corruption that is prima facie visible in the formulation of the new excise policy.

It said the new excise policy has “eradicated” the common and small-time businesses and gave the entire playing field in the liquor business to those who had “money, power and had created a cartel” on the basis of financial gains to those formulating a policy, which adds to the seriousness of the offence.

“The courts of law may be considered as constant thorns in the way of free-flowing corruption and, even if that be so and are termed as thorns, it scores the victory for the masses,” Justice Sharma said.

The high court observed in its order that the matter involved grave misuse of power and breach of public trust by Sisodia.

Sisodia's conduct amounted to a "great betrayal of democratic principles", the court said, adding he allegedly indulged in destruction of crucial evidence, including electronic evidence.

It said Sisodia was a very influential person within the power corridors of the Delhi government as he had the responsibility of 18 portfolios in the city dispensation.

Sisodia had challenged a trial court's April 30 order by which his bail pleas were rejected in the corruption and money laundering cases lodged by the CBI and ED, respectively, in connection with alleged irregularities in the formulation and execution of the now-scrapped Delhi excise policy for 2021-22.

While seeking bail for Sisodia, his counsel had submitted before the high court that the ED and CBI are still arresting people in the money laundering and corruption cases, and there is no question of early conclusion of the trial.

Both the ED and CBI opposed Sisodia's bail pleas on grounds that concerted efforts were made by the accused to delay the process of framing charges.

Sisodia was arrested by the CBI on February 26, 2023, for his alleged role in the liquor "scam". The ED arrested him in the money laundering case stemming from the CBI FIR on March 9, 2023.

He resigned from the Delhi cabinet on February 28, 2023.

The probe agencies have alleged that the beneficiaries diverted "illegal" gains to the accused officials and made false entries in their books of account to evade detection.

According to the probe agencies, irregularities were committed while modifying the excise policy and undue favours were extended to the licence holders.

The Delhi government implemented the policy on November 17, 2021 but scrapped it at the end of September 2022 amid allegations of corruption.

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