Can't monitor PNB fraud probe; will decide on PIL's maintainability: SC

Punjab National Bank

The Supreme Court on Monday made it clear that it cannot monitor the ongoing probe into the over Rs 136 billion Punjab National Bank fraud case and said it would first decide whether a PIL seeking a court-monitored SIT probe into the scam was maintainable or not.

The Centre, on its part, sought dismissal of the PIL from the top court by submitting that agencies such as the CBI, Enforcement Directorate (ED), Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO) and Income Tax (IT) department were conducting the probe independently.

"We cannot monitor. They (Centre) say that so many steps have been taken," a bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud said.

"We will hear the petition on maintainability first," the bench said when J H Dhanda, counsel for PIL petitioner Vineet Dhanda, sought issuance of notice to the Centre and others.

Dhanda claimed that accused like billionaire jewellers Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi had committed fraud and fled and "the whole country was watching that the government had not done anything" in the past in a similar case relating to Vijay Mallya.

Attorney General K K Venugopal, representing the Centre, said agencies have been carrying out probe "independently" and taking steps like conducting raids and confiscating properties of accused and there was no need for judicial intervention.

Venugopal submitted that the prayers made in the petition were impractical and hence, not manageable by "judicially standards". Moreover, there were laws to deal with such cases.

The court considered Venugopal's submissions and fixed the PIL on April 23 to decide whether it was maintainable or not.

Earlier, the apex court had said the government must get a free hand to probe the PNB fraud case, allegedly involving Nirav Modi and others. It had said the court would step in only when agencies fail to carry out the probe properly.

The PIL has made Punjab National Bank, Reserve Bank of India and the Ministries of Finance and Law and Justice as parties. It has sought a direction for initiation of deportation proceedings against Nirav Modi and others allegedly involved in the banking fraud, preferably within two months.

It has sought setting up a special investigation team (SIT) to probe the banking fraud, besides a probe into the role of the top management of the Punjab National Bank (PNB).

The CBI has already registered two FIRs -- one on January 31 and another in March against Nirav Modi, his relative Mehul Choksi of Gitanjali Gems and others for allegedly defrauding the PNB of about Rs 11,400 crore.

The plea has sought a direction to the Finance Ministry to frame guidelines on the grant and disbursal of loans involving big amounts, besides ensuring safety and recovery of such loans.

It has also sought the setting up of an experts' body to deal with cases of bad bank debts in the country, besides framing of rules for recovery of loans from the defaulters within a stipulated period, even by attaching their properties and auctioning them in the open market.

In his PIL, Dhanda has asked for a direction to fasten liabilities on the employees of a bank for sanctioning loans on the basis of deficient documents and said loans should also be recovered by attaching the properties of such bank officials even after their retirement.

Another plea filed by advocate M L Sharma on a similar issue would be taken up on April 27. Sharma, in his plea, has contended that the SIT should consist of retired judges of the apex court and said the banking fraud had caused serious injury to the public and the state's treasury. It should be investigated not by an agency "being controlled by the political leaders/authorities", he has said.

His plea has alleged that loans were issued in the case without following RBI's financial rules and regular systems.

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