HC Allows Journalist Rana Ayyub to Travel Abroad, Questions ED on LOC
Image Courtesy: Free Press Journal
New Delhi: The Delhi High Court on Monday allowed journalist Rana Ayyub to travel abroad while questioning the Enforcement Directorate (ED) over a Look Out Circular (LOC) issued against her barring her from travelling abroad.
Justice Chandra Dhari Singh said the permission is subject to appropriate conditions and a detailed order will follow.
“Deposit some money. Also, inform agencies as to where you are staying. Share your phone number,” the court said.
The court was hearing Ayyub’s plea seeking to quash a LOC issued against her barring her from travelling abroad.
The plea, however, was opposed by the ED which alleged that she was involved in a serious offence regarding funds involving over Rs 1 crore and that there was an apprehension that she might not return to India.
During the hearing, the judge asked the ED as to “how do you defend your LOC? It is an admitted fact that whenever a summons was issued, she replied and she appeared before officers. How do you say that she is avoiding investigation? Because for LOC, evidence should be satisfactory.”
To this, Additional Solicitor General S V Raju, representing the ED, said a person who wants to flee the country will always say that she will come back.
“Look at her conduct. Despite repeated summons, documents have not been supplied. Fake bills have been provided. According to us prima facie, there is a case of cheating. The cooperation part is missing and appearance before the agency is not cooperation,” he argued.
The court responded that "if a person is appearing before the agency and the agency says that the person is appearing but she is not cooperating, what is the yardstick to show that? If there is non-cooperation then why don’t you arrest her?”
Advocate Vrinda Grover, appearing for Ayyub, submitted that the documents were already there with the ED’s Mumbai office and the entire credit card statement was also there.
The judge said at this stage, he was only examining the LOC and whether the woman can be allowed to go abroad or not and the court was not on the merits of the case.
On being asked by the court whether Ayyub’s bank account has been frozen by the agency, the ASG replied in affirmative and said “now we want her to sit with us. Our case is money has not been used for COVID relief.”
The court said the ASG’s apprehension was that the journalist will not come back and asked Grover to satisfy the court on this issue.
Grover said the woman lives in Mumbai in a joint family and has been living in India always and asked how can she run away with the money which is frozen and maintained that she was cooperating with the agency.
“It is my voice that is being sought to be gagged,” Grover contended on behalf of Ayyub and also added, “I will come back and join, Can fundamental rights like practicing my profession be denied?”
Ayyub was detained at the Mumbai Airport by the Bureau of Immigration on March 29, when she was supposed to travel to London to attend some journalistic events.
She approached the high court challenging the LOC issued against him and sought to quash any direction or instruction preventing her from travelling abroad.
The ED’s lawyer had earlier contended that monies were received not only in dollars but also in rupees, running over one crore and certain fake bills have been submitted by her, and money for relief work has been siphoned off.
The journalist, in her petition through advocates Vrinda Grover and Soutik Banerjee, said that on March 29, she arrived at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport, Mumbai, to board a flight to London to attend events about the global problem of cyber attacks on women journalists, as well as to deliver a keynote speech on the status of journalism in India.
However, she was detained at the airport and the officers of Bureau Immigration told her that they have instructions from the ED to not allow her to board the flight and the immigration stamp on her passport was stamped as 'cancelled'.
Later, the ED also emailed her summons to her under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act and asked her to appear before the agency on April 1.
An inquiry was initiated by the Mumbai Zonal Office of ED under the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) against her last year and certain documents and information was sought from her.
The petitioner, in the petition, said she has responded to every summons issued by the ED under the PMLA and has also joined the investigation and recorded her statement, and provided necessary documents.
“There is thus nothing on record to suggest that the petitioner was evading the legal process. Respondent no. 2 (ED) has already filed a complaint under the PMLA, 2002, under Section 5 and provisionally attached part of the petitioner's bank account. The proceedings are now past the stage of inquiry/investigation and are pending before the PMLA Adjudicating Authority in New Delhi, where the petitioner is due to file her reply on or before April 17,” the petition said.
It said she was required to travel abroad to attend the remaining journalistic events scheduled in London and Italy between April 1 and 11.
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