The Supreme Court on Wednesday granted interim protection to media entrepreneur Raghav Bahl in connection with a money laundering case filed by the Enforcement Directorate, reported Live Law.
In an interim decision, the court directed the agency not to take any coercive action against founder of the news website The Quint.
The case is based on a chargesheet filed by the Income Tax department for alleged non-disclosure of funds of around Rs 2.45 crore used for buying a property in London. The case was filed in 2019 under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court bench, led by Chief Justice NV Ramana, was hearing a special leave petition filed by Bahl against a Delhi High Court order.
On December 3, the Delhi High Court had refused to grant him protection from coercive action in the case, reported The Indian Express. However, the High Court had asked the Enforcement Directorate to respond to Bahl’s petition demanding that the money laundering case against him be quashed. The court had adjourned the matter for further hearing on January 27.
The Income Tax department had initiated proceedings against Bahl under the Black Money (Undisclosed Foreign Income and Assets) and Imposition of Tax Act of 2015 for alleged irregularities in his returns filed for the assessment year 2018-’19.
Based on this complaint by the Income Tax department, the Enforcement Directorate initiated proceedings against Bahl.
At the hearing in the Supreme Court, Senior Advocate Vikas Singh, representing Bahl, submitted that in the present case he has already filed his income tax returns.
In the High Court, Bahl’s counsel had Mukul Rohatgi had argued that the money laundering proceedings cannot be allowed to go on as the authorities have cleared Bahl’s tax returns for assessment year 2018-’19 after he refiled it.
“Now there is no violation, there are no proceeds of crime,” he had told the High Court, according to PTI. “I-T [Income Tax department] has accepted the income tax return for 2018-2019 in 2021.”
In December 2019, the Supreme Court had granted protection to Bahl against proceedings by the Income Tax department.
Bahl has repeatedly denied the charges against him. In 2019, he wrote to Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, saying that he is “getting the sense of being hounded for doing no wrong despite paying all taxes honestly and diligently”.
In the letter, Bahl said he and his wife Ritu Kapur have made “full disclosures” in their tax returns. He said he was writing to Sitharaman “to intervene not just on my behalf but to see to it that a necessary and laudable drive to track and punish money launderers and black money hoarders is not allowed to degenerate into diversion of resources to hound innocents”.
In October 2018, Bahl’s organisation Quintillion Media, which runs the news website The Quint, in Noida and his Delhi home were raided by income tax officials.
In an article then, The Quint had said: “The apparent flip-flop of the I-T officers [about whether it is a survey or a search] certainly does not inspire confidence and creates genuine doubts whether the operation is for collateral purposes besides being part of overall messaging to muzzle dissent.”