Introduction: In a landmark ruling, the Jharkhand High Court granted bail to Gopal Oraon in a case involving allegations of money laundering, stating a lack of material evidence to prove his commission of the offence. Oraon, a purported accomplice in a human trafficking network, was in custody since April 2022 under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.
Analysis: The court emphasized that to establish an offence under Sections 3 and 4 of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, there must be substantial evidence that the accused was involved in money laundering. Though Oraon was implicated in running illegal placement agencies and alleged to have assisted in earning substantial illegal income, the prosecution was unable to provide sufficient evidence to prove money laundering.
The court noted that although the Enforcement Directorate had attached properties based on gathered materials, the only property linked to Oraon was a bank account with a balance of Rs. 5,012.46. Further, the court pointed out that no immovable property of the petitioner was subject to attachment proceedings, thereby adding to the weakness of the prosecution’s case.
Conclusion: The Jharkhand High Court’s ruling underscores the crucial importance of substantial material evidence in proving money laundering offences. Despite the seriousness of the allegations against Oraon, the court has emphasized the need for concrete evidence before convicting someone of such offences. This case sets a clear precedent that allegations must be backed by substantial evidence, thereby reinforcing the presumption of innocence until proven guilty in the legal system.
FULL TEXT OF THE JUDGMENT/ORDER OF JHARKHAND HIGH COURT
1. Petitioner above-named who is in custody since 06.04.2022 has moved this Court for grant of regular bail in connection with ECIR Case No.04 of 2021 dated 04.02.2022 registered under Section 3 punishable under Section 4 of Prevention of Money Laundering Act.
2. Heard the parties.
3. As per the case of prosecution, Anti Human Trafficking Unit (AHTU), Khunti had registered several cases against Panna Lal Mahto & Ors. and his accomplices related to the offence of human trafficking. FIR bearing No.07 of 2019 dated 19.07.2019 was registered against the petitioner and others and supplementary charge-sheet No.8 of 2019 and 9/21 was filed on 16.10.2019 and 27.02.2 1 against the principal accused Pannalal Mahto and others including this
4. ED/ ECIR/ RNSZO/ 12 /2020 dated 30.05.2020 was registered under Sections 3 and 4 of the PML Act as the offences stated above were part of the scheduled to the PMLA.
5. After investigation, prosecution complaint has been submitted by ED. The specific role that has been attributed to this petitioner is that he was a close accomplice of Pannal Lal Mahto. He had criminally conspired in running a human trafficking network in the guise of several placement agencies in Delhi. Petitioner used to collect the payment of domestic workers from the respective household on their behalf, but they were never paid actual wages or promised Petitioner was owner of the Laxmi Placement Service and also worked as the manager of the Birsa Security & Placement Service and also a director and shareholder in M/s Secure Luck Placement Agency; however, he had resigned on 25.03.2019 from M/s Secureluck. The placement agencies were running without any valid licence. Further, he was the Secretary in Birsa Bhagwan Tribal Welfare Society. He also used his Bank accounts for rotation of illegal income, despite knowing that the source of income was ill gotten. Petitioner aided Panna Lal Mahto in earning about Rs.4.5 Crore to Rs.5 Crore, as commission from the owners for engagement of about 5000 persons who were facilitated to get work through his placement agency.
6. The Enforcement Directorate attached properties (Movable & Immovable) totally valued Rs .3,36,65,968.86/- vide Provisional Attachment Order No.06/ 2021 dated 31.12.2021 under the provisions of PMLA on the basis of materials gathered during the course of investigations carried out under the provisions of PMLA. The original complaint was filed under Section 5(5) of PMLA on 28.01.2022, which is registered as O.C. No.1615 of 2022 and the said OC is confirmed vide order dated 18.08.2022 by the Hon’ble Adjudicating Authority, New Delhi.
7. It is submitted by learned counsel for the petitioner that in order to make out offence under Sections 3 /4 of the P.M.L. Act, there should be some material to show that the accused was involved in laundering of the money. Petitioner has been enlarged on bail in the case for the scheduled offence.
8. Here in the present case, although the petitioner has been separately proceeded against for the scheduled offence, but there is no material against him to make out an offence of money laundering. The attachment proceeding was initiated as per the prosecution complaint of the property of co-accused, Panna Lal Mahto and his wife. No immovable property of the petitioner has been the subject matter of attachment proceeding. Only one account of the petitioner has been show in the prosecution complaint and the same has been attached having a balance of Rs.5,012.46/-.
9. Learned counsel for the ED has vehemently opposed the prayer. It is submitted that it will be apparent that Laxmi Placement Agency in which the petitioner is said to be proprietor, transaction of Rs. 1,95,000/- has been shown in the year 2014 and thereafter there has not been any substantial transaction.
10. Considering the submissions of learned counsel and the balance of the bank account which has been attached of this petitioner, the bail application is allowed. Accordingly, the petitioner named above shall be released on bail on furnishing bail bond of Rs.50,000/- (Rupees Fifty Thousand) with two sureties of the like amount each to the satisfaction of learned Court below and subject to the condition that one of the bailor(s) must be Income Tax Payee.