In Top Court, Government opposes Independent Probe in PNB Fraud

NEW DELHI: The government must get a free hand to probe the over Rs. 11,000 crore PNB fraud case, allegedly involving billionaire jeweller Nirav Modi, the Supreme Court said on Wednesday.

The top court said it would step in only when agencies fail to carry out the investigation properly.

The Centre, represented by Attorney General K K Venugopal, vehemently opposed a PIL, seeking an independent probe and deportation of Nirav Modi, before a bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra saying “the inquiry has started and the FIRs have been registered”.

“If the government does not do things that are required, then you (petitioner) can come. It is not that the government agencies are not acting,” the bench, also comprising Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud, said, adding that the government must have “a free hand” to probe the scam.

Lawyer Vineet Dhanda, who has filed the PIL, said that either notice be issued or a status report called from the Centre as “the whole country was watching that the government had not done anything” in the past in a similar case relating to Vijay Mallya.

“Speeches have no impact on the court. We will hear the legal issue and not the emotional aspect,” the bench said, adding “this is not the way you argue a petition. The purpose is to gain publicity”.

The court took serious note of the intervention by Mr Dhanda when Mr Venugopal was putting forth the stand of the Centre, and said “I cannot say that anywhere in the world the Attorney General is stopped like this”.

“These are publicity-oriented litigations,” the bench said, adding that the petitioner lawyer was “playing to the gallery”.

The bench then fixed the PIL for hearing on March 16, saying “we are not saying anything today”.

The top court also said it would hear the objections of the Attorney General to the petition on the next date.

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 asked for a special investigation team (SIT) to probe the banking fraud, allegedly involving billionaire jewellers Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi and also sought 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 a few days ago — 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 banking debts in the country. Besides, the petition seeks framing of rules for the 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, Mr 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 on a similar issue has not come up for hearing yet.

The other plea has said the SIT should consist of retired judges of the apex court and said that the banking fraud has caused serious injury to the general public and the state’s treasury. It should be investigated not by an agency “being controlled by the political leaders/authorities”, he has said.

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