The Karnataka High Court on Wednesday allowed Amnesty International India to withdraw Rs 60 lakh from its bank accounts after rejecting the Enforcement Directorate’s objections, Bar and Bench reported.
A bench of Justice PS Dinesh Kumar allowed the petition by the human rights body, which challenged the communication issued by the Enforcement Directorate to banks, directing them to freeze Amnesty’s accounts. The court had reserved its order in the case on December 9.
“Petition is partly allowed, the petitioner is allowed to withdraw an amount of Rs 60 lakh from the bank accounts,” the order passed by Justice Kumar said.
In September, Amnesty had said that it would approach the Karnataka High court, after the Enforcement Directorate had frozen its bank accounts on suspicion of violating rules on foreign funding. The human rights body had alleged that it was compelled to to halt its operation in India because of the “reprisals” by the government”, which led to 150 employees losing their jobs.
The group had called the authorities’ action a part of an “incessant witch-hunt”, and said its lawful fundraising model was being portrayed as money laundering because Amnesty India had challenged the “government’s grave inactions and excesses.” The Ministry of Home Affairs had called the allegations “exaggerated and far from the truth.”
Previously, the Enforcement Directorate had refused to consider the High Court’s suggestion about whether it was willing to allow the human rights body to make statutory dues like salaries, tax payments to the tune of Rs 40 lakh from the five bank accounts which were frozen.
Appearing for Amnesty on Wednesday, advocate Ravivarma Kumar told the court that the organisation was “repeatedly being harassed”, Live Law reported. “This is a very serious matter,” he added. “We are only interested in working for human rights”
Kumar added that the ED had not taken up the matter before the adjudicating authority within 30 days. “Seizure has taken place and no reasons have been recorded and no order is passed and within 30 days matter is not taken before the adjudicating authority as prescribed,” he said.
Therefore, the agency’s actions are beyond the power of section 17 (1)(A) of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), the advocate contended. “The PMLA Act is a self contained code it regulates all powers including incidental powers,” he said. “All these powers are self limiting powers operating for a period of 30 days.”
The advocate further informed the court that the donations in question were used for nothing but “spreading human rights and upholding human rights”.
“That is the only activity I have done, it is for nothing else as it is not for profit organisation,” Kumar said. “Even in the attachment order passed on November 26, there is no whisper that any one of the accounts is tainted with a particular donation under FEMA [Foreign Exchange and Management Act] or PMLA Act.”
Praying for relief, Kumar said that Amnesty India will be “choked if the interim order is not made”. “It will be a great fraud to any human rights activities carried out in this country, which is a constitutional value,” he added.
Appearing for the Enforcement Directorate, Additional Solicitor General of India Nargund MB countered Kumar’s submissions, saying that the agency was in the process of investigating the case.
“During that process the officer of the department has communicated to the bank and thus, the proceeds of the crime in the bank account are frozen,” he added. “Since the matter was immediately brought to the notice of the court we could not proceed further.”
Nargund added that Amnesty claimed to be using the “proceeds of the crime” for creating awareness in the society. But according to the ED, “ it is to create problems in the Indian society”.