Friday, December 11, 2015

SC upholds pre-Trial confiscation of ill-gotten wealth of corrupt babus, politicians

 The Supreme Court has dubbed corruption a national economic terror and upheld two laws enacted by  Bihar and Odisha to confiscate the ill-gotten wealth of corrupt bureaucrats and politicians even at the pre-trial, pre-conviction stage and provided for quick trial in all such cases. 

A bench, comprising Justices Anil R Dave and Dipak Misra, on Thursday rejected the appeals against the two laws - the Orissa Special Courts Act, 2006, and the Bihar Special Courts Act, 2009 - that also cover central government officers posted in those states. 

Both laws were challenged on the ground that the special courts mandated to try the cases within a short span of time violated the right to equality guaranteed to every citizen under the Constitution. 

Both states' High Courts had upheld the laws. 

The top court, though, struck down the Bihar rules that  prescribed a  summaryprocedure to deal with such cases. 

The laws were challenged by public servants facing criminal cases for various offences including the offences under the  Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, particularly Section 13(1)(e), for allegedly having property disproportionate to their known sources of income. 

The laws provided for quick trial by the special courts on the basis of a prima facie finding of guilt. The state was, however, duty bound to return the properties and assets if the man were to be acquitted, along with a nominal interest. 

As per the Odisha law, an authorised officer, i.e. any serving officer belonging to Orissa superior judicial service and who is or has been an additional sessions judge nominated by the state government with the concurrence of the High Court for Section 13, can make such a prima facie declaration of guilt. 

The officer will first issue notice to the person to explain the source of his money or property. If the person fails to do so, the officer will take possession of all these properties. The special court can then try the cases within a year. Pending hearing of the case, state will take over all wealth and assets of the accused till the person is proved innocent. 

The petitioners in the Odisha case had argued that corruption was a pan-Indian phenomena and hence no special provisions of trial could be made for one state. The court rejected this plea. 

The bench also rejected the plea that these laws were in conflict with the central law on prevention of money laundering. 

"...confiscation being not a punishment does not come in either of the categories... Property of an accused facing trial under the 1988 Act could be attached and there can be administration by third party...and eventual forfeiture after conviction," the court said.

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