'Unbridled powers' to probe agencies promise devastating consequences for democracy: Congress

NEW DELHI: A day after the Supreme Court upheld certain powers of the Enforcement Directorate, the Congress on Thursday said “unbridled powers” to investigating agencies promise “devastating consequences” for democracy.
At a press conference here, Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi said that while his party has the greatest respect for the Supreme Court, it feels that the court has not considered the “consistent pattern of selective and motivated deployment” that the Enforcement Directorate (ED) has been put to in the last eight years.
“It is no one’s case, that the government should not investigate money laundering or build strong mechanisms to tackle the problem of financial crimes.
“However, in the absence of meaningful safeguards, and with a government that has routinely stood and argued against the grant of fundamental rights to citizens before the very same Supreme Court, unbridled powers to investigating agencies promise devastating consequences for our democracy,” he said.
The apex court on Wednesday had upheld the ED’s powers relating to arrest, attach property, search and seize under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), in a huge leg up for the central agency often accused of abusing its authority to target the government’s political adversaries.
Singhvi alleged that the ED has functioned as an extension of the ruling party.
“Through the weapon of the ED, we have said earlier the BJP is suppressing, sabotaging and subjugating the Opposition,” Singhvi said.
As per official records presented before Parliament, in comparison with 112 raids conducted between 2004-2014, the number between 2014-2022 is over 3,000, Singhvi said.
“They illustrate the weaponization of the ED against political rivals and those who routinely expose this government,” he said.
Singhvi said a vast number of cases have been filed against opposition leaders, but almost none have been filed against those who are members of the ruling party or bear proximity to the same.
He said cases initiated against members of the opposition have been put into “cold storage or abandoned” altogether once the accused have switched loyalties towards the ruling party.
This is also the case with cases pending against BJP leaders, Singhvi said.
“This pattern by the government of malicious use also exposes the necessity of safeguards many of which have been dismantled by this government through amendment after amendment,” Singhvi said.
“For example, prior to an amendment in 2019, seizure could only be carried out after a report had been presented to a magistrate. This has been done away with and seizures can take place without any notice and entirely at the discretion of the ED,” the Congress leader said.
Furthermore, it was pointed out that the Appellate Tribunal for PMLA hasn’t had a full-time chairman since September 2019 and this again speaks to the Modi government’s intentions for whom the safeguarding of rights is simply not a priority, he alleged.
“It is our humble and respectful view some of these considerations merited greater attention and intervention by the Hon’ble Supreme Court,” Singhvi said.
Singhvi said it is ultimately the citizenry of the country looks up to the Supreme Court which needs to provide safeguard, security and safety to the Opposition from the vendetta of the ED to ensure stability in democracy.
The Congress shall continue to speak out and expose this government without fear or favour, Singhvi asserted.
Top opposition politicians, including Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, P Chidambaram and his son and MP Karti, Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Raut, National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee‘s nephew Abhishek Banerjee, also a TMC MP, and Delhi minister Satyendar Jain are among those under the ED’s lens for alleged money laundering.
Observing that it is a common experience world over that money laundering can be a “threat” to the good functioning of a financial system, a Supreme Court bench headed by Justice A M Khanwilkar upheld the validity of certain provisions of the PMLA, underlining it is not an “ordinary offence”.
The court was hearing a clutch of over 200 petitions filed by individuals and other entities questioning various provisions of the PMLA, a law which the Opposition has often claimed has been weaponised by the government to harass its political adversaries.

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