The High Court asked the Enforcement Directorate why it did not arrest her, if she refused to cooperate with the investigation, while quashing the Look Out Circular issued by the ED against her.
IN a setback to the Enforcement Directorate [ED], the Delhi High Court earlier today allowed the petition filed by journalist Rana Ayyub to travel abroad for professional work. On March 29, Ayyub was stopped at Mumbai’s international airport prior to boarding a flight to the United Kingdom, after the ED reportedly issued a summons against her.
Justice Chandra Dhari Singh, sitting singly, quashed the Look Out Circular(LOC) issued by the ED calling it a decision taken in haste. He also held that the LOC was devoid of merits and infringed the human right of Ayyub to travel abroad and to exercise her freedom of speech and expression.
Observing that the ED had not contradicted the submission of the petitioner that she had appeared on each and every date before the Investigation Agency when summoned, the judge said there was, therefore, no cogent reason to presume that she would not appear before the Investigation Agency. Hence, no case had been made out for issuing the LOC.
However, in order to strike a balance between the right of the investigation agency to investigate and the petitioner’s fundamental right of movement and free speech, the judge imposed certain conditions on Ayyub, namely, she will intimate her travel dates and detailed itinerary to the Investigation Agency forthwith along with the address of the places that she will be visiting; she will deposit an FDR to the tune of Rs. 1 lakh before the Enforcement Directorate at Mumbai; she will not attempt to tamper with the evidence or influence the witnesses in any manner; she will return to India on the date specified i.e. 11th April 2022; and she will give the undertaking to appear before the Investigation Agency immediately on her return and on dates that might be fixed by the Investigation Agency for interrogation, if any, after the travel period.
Additional Solicitor General S.V. Raju, for the ED, contended that the agency apprehends that Ayyub would leave the county and never return. He added that despite repeated summons, documents have not been supplied by her. He argued that merely appearing before the agency is not cooperation. Raju reiterated that Ayyub submitted fake bills, and prima facie there is a case of the offence of cheating by her.
The submission of Raju did not find favour with Justice Singh, who posed a question to him: “If any accused person is appearing before agency and agency is saying the person is appearing but not cooperating, what is the stick to measure this? If there is non-cooperation then why don’t you arrest her?”
Appearing for Ayyub, advocate Vrinda Grover argued that there was nothing to show that Ayyub had been evading or avoiding summons issued by the ED. She added that Ayyub has been cooperating with the agency, and made herself available as and when summoned. Grover contended that the mere pendency of the case cannot be a ground to deny the fundamental right to travel abroad.
On the apprehension of ED that Ayyub, if allowed to travel abroad, will not come back, Grover submitted that Ayyub lives as part of a joint family in Mumbai, and she has always been living in India. Apprehensions cannot be imaginary, said Grover, adding that in so far as the money in question is concerned, it has already been frozen. “Can I run away with frozen money?”, Grover asked.
During the first and second waves of COVID-19, Ayyub collected funds for charity via the crowd-funding website, ‘Ketto’. On August 28, 2021, the Ghaziabad-based Vikas Sankrityayan, who is reportedly the founder of an NGO named ‘Hindu IT Cell’, registered a complaint with the Ghaziabad Police against Ayyub, alleging that she had used crowd-funding between April 2020 and June 2021 on ketto.com to cheat the public on the pretext of charity. Later, on September 7, 2021, the police lodged a first information report [FIR] against her, including various provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, the Indian Penal Code and the Information Technology Act. Following this FIR, the ED initiated a money-laundering probe against her.