Chennai Court Rejects Bail Plea of Tamil Nadu Minister V Senthil Balaji in PMLA Case

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Balaji has been in judicial custody from June 14 to August 6, 2023, and from August 12, 2023 to till date. In between, he was handed over to the custody of the ED for five days in pursuance of the Supreme Court's order. 

A Chennai court on Wednesday dismissed Tamil Nadu Minister V Senthil Balaji's bail plea in the money laundering case in which he was arrested on June 14, this year.

The decision was rendered by Principal Sessions Judge S. Alli, who had recently been directed by the Madras High Court to consider Balaji's bail plea.

Judge Alli took note of the earlier rejection of Balaji's earlier bail application by the Sessions court on June 16, citing that the conditions stipulated under Section 45 of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) were not met.

This section requires a judge to be convinced that releasing an accused on bail would not result in the commission of another offense.

The judge observed that there were no significant changes in circumstances since June, except for the completion of the Enforcement Directorate's investigation.

"The court do not find any change of circumstance, except the facts of completion of investigation and filing of complaint, which are not the major grounds for granting bail in the absence the non-compliance of twin conditions u/s 45 of the PMLA, 2002 for an offence u/s 3 punishable u/s 4 of the PMLA, 2002," he stated. 

Senthil Balaji was arrested and remanded to judicial custody on June 14, 2023 in connection with the present case which was registered in 2021 by the Department of Enforcement Directorate under Section 3, punishable under Section 4 of the PMLA, 2002. 

He has been in judicial custody from June 14 to August 6, 2023, and from August 12 to till date.  In between, he was handed over to the custody of the ED for five days in pursuance of the Supreme Court's order

The PMLA case was registered as a sequel to the FIR registered by the Central Crime Branch, Chennai.

The case against the Minister is that between 2011 and 2016, he held the position of Transport Minister in the Government of Tamil Nadu. While serving as a Minister, in connivance with his Personal Assistants, he orchestrated the collection of funds through the above-mentioned persons, promising job opportunities across various roles within the Transport Department.

As per the complaints from the candidates, who had paid money, but failed to secure the promised employment, the Central Crime Branch, Chennai registered cases against the Minister and others.

Seeking his release on bail, Balaji's counsel contended before court of Judge Alli that the investigation by the ED was complete in which he had fully cooperated, therefore, no useful purpose could be achieved in keeping him in prison.

The judge, however, pointed out that cooperation during investigation, completion of investigation, filing of complaint, and duration of incarceration are not the criteria for grant of bail in an offence under Sec.3, punishable u/s 4 of the PMLA.

"Because, in an application for grant of bail for an offence under Sec.3, punishable u/s 4 of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, the conditions enumerated in Sec.45 of the PMLA, 2002 will have to be complied with," he noted. 

He also refuted the argument raised by Balaji's counsel that the allegations against him were without substance. 

"The complainant has examined as many as 20 witnesses, apart from the Investigating Officer and have produced 77 documents, runs to 2853 pages, filed along with the complaint. Through the bank statements of the petitioner / accused, cash deposits totally for Rs.1.34 crores has been identified as proceeds of crime during the period of financial year 2013-2014 to 2021-2022 and his wife S.Megala has received cash deposits of Rs.29.55 lakhs during the period of F.Y. 2014- 2015 to F.Y. 2019-2020," he underscored. 

Further, he said that the reliability, genuinity, admissibility and also the authenticity of the Electronic Evidence have to be raised during trial and it can be decided by the court only after a full trial.

"It is trite law that to consider a petition for grant of bail, the court is not expected to weigh the evidence meticulously, but to arrive at a finding on the basis of broad probabilities," he said. 

Therefore, while stressing that since Balaji is not only a Member of Legislative Assembly, but also a Sitting Minister in the Government of Tamil Nadu, therefore, there are chances for influencing the witnesses, the Principal Sessions Judge held him not entitled for bail.

Case Title: V.Senthil Balaji vs ­ The Deputy Director, ED