Govt free to probe charges against ED officer probing Aircel-Maxis case: SC

New Delhi: No officer should be under a “cloud” and blanket clean chit cannot be given to anybody, the Supreme Court observed today, as it told the government that it was free to look into the “serious” allegations against ED officer Rajeshwar Singh, who is probing the “highly sensitive” 2G spectrum case and the Aircel-Maxis deal.

A vacation bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Sanjay Kishan Kaul, which was of the view that the sensitive matter involved national security, said the allegations against Singh were required to be looked into and the government should take a call whether he would have any role to play in the further probe.

Modifying its interim order granting Singh protection against an inquiry, the court referred to the Centre’s affidavit which stated that it did not intend to protect anybody, including the high or the mighty, and observed that it was nobody’s case that government was “seeking to thwart the investigation”.

The bench said it was “troubled” with the Centre’s response as documents placed before it in a sealed cover contained “startling” facts.

“We direct that the government is free to look into the materials against respondent number 3 (Rajeshwar Singh) and the same can be looked into,” the bench ordered.

“… It will be the call of the government whether Singh will have any role to play in the matter,” it said, referring that a charge sheet has already been filed in the Aircel-Maxis deal case.

During the arguments, Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Vikramjit Banerjee, appearing for the Centre, said the government was willing to probe the charges that Singh had amassed disproportionate assets, as he handed over a communication in a sealed cover to the bench.

“Of course, the Supreme Court’s order (granting protection to Singh against inquiry) comes in our way,” the ASG said.

After perusing the document, the bench observed, “As a matter of fact, when there is an allegation, whether right or wrong, against you (Singh), it has to be looked into”.

“The other issue is that you should not be victimised. The third point is whether it would be appropriate for you to investigate when you are under a cloud and under investigation,” the bench said, adding “the things which have come before us are startling”.

“You are simply an officer. You can’t be given a blanket clean chit. Everybody is accountable. You must be accountable for any action. We need to ensure that you are accountable. We don’t want to damage you or comment against you. There are very serious allegations against you,” it told the officer. It also made it clear that it has not commented against anybody.

The bench noted that the government had assured that the probe in these cases would be done as per the time schedule fixed by the top court which, on March 12, had given a deadline of six months to the CBI and ED to complete the probe.

Senior advocate R S Suri, appearing for Singh, told the bench that there was a serious issue of maintainability of the plea filed by Rajneesh Kapur, who claims to be an investigative journalist who is seeking a probe against Singh for allegedly amassing assets which are disproportionate to his known source of income.

To this, the bench said, “We had given six months time (to CBI and ED to complete the ongoing investigation) and protection was granted (to Singh). This matter is highly sensitive from the country’s point of view. We cannot just divulge the content of this (communication in sealed cover) to anybody. It may prejudice your client (Singh) also. It is not advisable that it goes into public domain.”

“It is highly sensitive. Issues of nation’s security are involved. These are serious issues. We cannot shut our eyes to it,” the bench observed.

“The sensitive issue is the government’s response which has troubled us. Something very serious is there. We cannot say that ‘leave the matter’ or tie the hands of the government,” it said.

“Let there be a fair investigation and person, who is investigating, according to my opinion, should not have a cloud over him,” Justice Mishra observed.

At the outset, Kapur’s counsel claimed that after filing the plea, Kapur has been “gravely threatened” and sought protection for him. He also claimed that Singh has the “clout” and the top court’s earlier order says no action can be taken against this officer.

BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, who had filed a plea seeking to be impleaded as a party in Kapur’s plea, said Singh was promoted to the post of Joint Director in ED and full evaluation was done for it around two years ago.

To this, the bench said the issue of promotion of an officer was a personal thing.

Swamy, however, alleged that a top officer was “inimical” to Singh due to what had happened in the Nirav Modi’s case and he was willing to put it on an affidavit.

When the bench ordered that no personal insinuations should be made, Swamy said, “I am withdrawing it”.

He said that allegations were levelled against Singh but the probe agencies had given him a clean chit. “You could always call for a report from CBI, ED or any other agency and then come to a conclusion whether it is motivated or has some substance,” Swamy said.

The court disposed of the petitions filed by Kapur, Swamy and Singh, who had filed a separate plea seeking contempt action against Kapur.

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