The Supreme Court on Tuesday stayed an Enforcement Directorate investigation into the alleged Rs 2,000 crore liquor scam in Chhattisgarh, reported The Hindu.

A bench of Justices SK Kaul and Sudhanshu Dhulia passed the order in response to petitions challenging the legality of the proceedings started by the Enforcement Directorate in the alleged money-laundering case.

The central agency has alleged that a syndicate comprising state government officials, politicians and other individuals conspired to ensure that a state-run company would procure liquor only from those who would pay a commission of Rs 75 per case of country liquor. It alleged that the syndicate pocketed more than Rs 2,000 crore which would have otherwise gone to the state exchequer.

The Chhattisgarh government, which is among the petitioners in the case, has claimed that the Enforcement Directorate has been conducting the investigation without any jurisdiction and with the aim to implicate Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, reported the Hindustan Times.

On May 16, the Supreme Court had told the central agency not to create an “atmosphere of fear”, reported The Hindu.

On Tuesday, senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the Chhattisgarh government, alleged that the government officials were being harassed by the central agency.

Senior advocate AM Singhvi, appearing for some of the petitioners, urged the court to pass an order staying the ongoing investigation by the Enforcement Directorate. “How can they investigate without a predicate offence?” he asked.

A predicate offence is a criminal case on the basis of which the Enforcement Directorate can register a money-laundering case. Under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, the Enforcement Directorate can only file a complaint pertaining to money-laundering allegations based on a case registered by another investigative agency.

Sibal and Singhvi also submitted that in April, a Delhi court had declined to take cognisance of any scheduled or predicate offence in the case, saying that it lacked the territorial jurisdiction to do so.

“The court returned their complaint,” Singhvi added. “It took note of only the offences pertaining to income tax.”

To this, Additional Solicitor General SV Raju argued that even though the Delhi court did not take cognisance of the complaint, it did not mean that there was no predicate offence. Raju added that the money-laundering case originated from a 2022 Income Tax Department chargesheet filed against Indian Administrative Service officer Anil Tuteja and others before the Delhi court.

The Supreme Court bench, however, asked what has the central agency done after the court returned the complaint.

“Is there any order of any court taking cognisance of a predicate offence?” it asked. ‘The question here is what will happen when there is no predicate offence.”

The court told the Enforcement Directorate: “Hold your hands in the meantime... We are not taking a final view.”