New Delhi: In a setback to former Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren, the Supreme Court on Friday refused to interfere with his arrest by the ED in a money laundering case and asked him to approach the high court.
A special bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna, MM Sundresh and Bela M Trivedi asked senior advocates Kapil Sibal and Abhishek Singhvi, appearing for Soren, to seek relief from the high court.
Sibal said, "In these kinds of cases, this court needs to send a message. Here, we are dealing with a chief minister, who has been arrested. Please see the evidence. This is not fair".
Justice Khanna told Sibal, "First, the courts are open to everybody. Second, high courts are also constitutional courts. If we permit one person to approach the apex court, then we will have to permit everyone".
Sibal, who appeared along with senior advocates Abhishek Singhvi and Arunabh Chowdhury, said, "Your lordships have this discretion. This is a case where that discretion ought to be exercised".
Justice Khanna referred to an earlier order by another bench in which Justice Trivedi was a part.
Justice Trivedi's bench had asked Soren to move the high court in the matter related to challenge to the summons of the ED in the case, Justice Khanna said.
"You approach the high court. Initially, you filed this petition on the basis that notice under section 50 of the PMLA (Prevention of Money Laundering Act) has been issued. Now, an amendment application has been filed since he has been arrested," Justice Khanna told Sibal.
The senior advocate said in the earlier matter before a bench in which Justice Trivedi was part of, the constitutionality of provisions of the PMLA under which summons were issued by the ED, was challenged.
Singhvi tried to persuade the court for its indulgence in the matter, saying this court has concurrent jurisdiction.
"There was no necessity to arrest," he said.
The bench, however, was not inclined to entertain the petition and ordered that Soren can approach the high court under Article 226 of the Constitution for relief.
"We are informed that petitioner has already preferred a writ petition before the Jharkhand High Court, which is still pending. It will also be open to him to ask for expeditious listing and disposal of the case," the bench ordered.
As soon as the order was dictated, Sibal urged the court to fix a time-frame for expeditious disposal of a petition pending before the high court.
Justice Khanna said, "When you press for it, they (the high court) will hear you out. We are not going to control the high court".
Additional Solicitor General SV Raju, appearing for the ED, said a special bench was constituted by the apex court to hear Soren's petition.
"A common man would have never gotten these benefits," he said.
Sibal shot back, "They are trying to topple this government, that's a fact".
Soren has also approached the high court on Wednesday challenging the summons issued by the ED and the subsequent actions of the anti-money laundering agency.
The high court, on Thursday refused to grant him relief on the grounds that it cannot pass any ex-parte order without hearing the ED. It had asked the copy of the petition to be served on the counsel for the probe agency.
Soren, who had to step down as Jharkhand chief minister in the face of his imminent arrest, in his plea before the top court had accused the ED of arresting him as part of a "well-orchestrated conspiracy" by the Centre ahead of the Lok Sabha elections due months from now.
In his plea, filed through advocate Pragya Baghel before the apex court, Soren has urged it to declare his arrest as unwarranted, arbitrary, and in violation of his fundamental rights.
Soren was arrested on January 31 in a money laundering case linked to "illegal" possession of huge parcels of land and alleged association with the "land mafia".
He was sent to one-day judicial custody on Thursday by a special PMLA court in Ranchi.
Soren said in the petition that he was arrested from the Raj Bhavan where he had gone to tender his resignation as the chief minister along with JMM MLAs and those of the allied parties who enjoy a clear majority in the state assembly.
"The arrest of the petitioner around 10.10 PM on January 31, 2024 is illegal and malafide and without jurisdiction," it claimed.
The plea said Soren's arrest has curtailed his liberty and "the officers of the respondent No.2 (ED) have abused their powers for extraneous considerations under the dictates of the Central government as the petitioner is the leader of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, a prominent opposition party and an active constituent of the INDIA alliance.
"The arrest is a part of a well-orchestrated conspiracy which has been given shape at the anvil of the general elections slated in a few months," it said.
Soren alleged the ED's action, initiated at the behest of the central government, was aimed at toppling his democratically elected government.
"The ruling alliance headed by Jharkhand Mukti Morcha has the support of 47 MLAs out of total 81 MLAs of the Assembly and they have elected Champai Soren to be their leader and to take over as new chief minister of the state of Jharkhand pursuant to the resignation of the Petitioner," it said.