SC junks PFI student wing leader’s plea for PMLA case transfer to Ernakulam

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday junked a plea moved by the Popular Front of India’s (PFI) student wing leader, K.A. Rauf Sherif, seeking a transfer of a money-laundering case lodged against him from Lucknow to Kerala’s Ernakulam.

A bench of Justices V. Ramasubramanian and Pankaj Mithal said: “We find no legally valid and justifiable grounds to order this transfer. Therefore, this transfer petition is dismissed. Pending application(s), if any, stands disposed of accordingly.”

The bench noted that the fact that the petitioner was sent to custody by the special judge at Ernakulam under Section 167(2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure and that, therefore, the filing of the complaint at Lucknow is impermissible, is not legally well-founded.

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The petitioner was arrested on December 12, 2020, in Kerala and he was produced before the magistrate on December 13, 2020, who sent him to judicial custody till December 24, 2020. “Therefore, the NIA moved an application under Section 167 of the Code before the Principal Sessions Judge, Ernakulam for the grant of Enforcement Directorate custody for a period of 14 days. An order under Section 167(2) of the Code had to be passed necessarily by the magistrate to whom an accused person is forwarded. In fact, Section 167(2) contains the words whether he has or has not jurisdiction to try the case. Therefore, the argument revolving around Section 167(2) of the Code also fails,” said the bench.

It stressed that a special court in Lucknow dealing with cases lodged under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) cannot be said to be lacking in territorial jurisdiction to entertain the complaint. “In any case, the lack of jurisdiction of a court to entertain a complaint can be no ground to order its transfer. A congenital defect of lack of jurisdiction, assuming that it exists, inures to the benefit of the accused and hence it need not be cured at the instance of the accused to his detriment. Therefore, the first ground on which transfer is sought, is liable to be rejected,” it said.

The bench noted that the second ground on which transfer is sought is that 7 out of 10 accused persons are residents of Kerala. “But this can hardly be a ground for ordering the transfer of investigation. Similarly, the third ground that a majority of witnesses are also from Kerala/south India is also no ground to order the transfer of the complaint,” it held.

The ED had contended that Sherif had received huge amounts of money in his bank accounts through suspicious transactions.

The Lucknow court had framed charges against Kerala-based journalist Siddique Kappan and six others in the PMLA case in December 2022. In October 2020, Kappan was arrested with three others on their way to Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras to report on the alleged gang rape and killing of a 19-year-old woman.

Besides Kappan, the other accused in the case is Sherif and others. Sherif claimed that he was the General Secretary of Campus Front of India, which is now banned as an unlawful association, vide notification issued by the Union of India, Ministry of Home Affairs dated September 27, 2021 under Section 3 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967

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( With inputs from )

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