The Supreme Court on Friday granted bail to liquor giant Pernod Ricard's executive Benoy Babu in a money laundering case arising out of the Delhi excise policy scam.
A bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and SVN Bhatti noted that the accused has been in custody for more than 13 months and the trial against him has still not commenced in the case. The bench also noted that there were contradictions in the case probed by the CBI and the ED with regard to Babu.
"You can't keep people behind bars before trial for long. This is not proper. We still don't know how this will go. There seems to be some contradiction between what the CBI is alleging and the ED is alleging in the case," the bench told Additional Solicitor General S.V. Raju, appearing for the Enforcement Directorate (ED).
At the outset, senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for Babu, said it is a completely 'bogus case' against his client which is being probed by the ED. "As per the ED's case, Babu met Vijay Nair (Aam Aadmi Party's communication in-charge and accused in the Delhi excise policy case) on March 27, 2021, but the draft excise policy was already announced on March 22, 2021," the senior lawyer said.
The bench asked Raju about the submission of Salve to which he accepted that Babu had indeed met Nair on March 27, 2021. Justice Khanna told Raju that the ED cannot put anyone behind for such a long period of time without the trial being commenced and ordered that Babu be released on bail in the case.
"It's nothing but long pre-trial detention. In CBI's case, he is a prosecution witness but in ED's case he has been named as an accused," the bench said, while directing him to be released on bail. Babu had challenged the July 3 order of the Delhi High Court by which his bail was rejected in the case.
The high court had said that there was sufficient material on the record to support the ED's claim that Babu was indulging or knowingly assisting in the process or activity connected with the proceeds of crime. It observed that in case of a conspiracy to generate proceeds of crime, a person who is connected with any related process or activity cannot avoid the responsibility.
The Delhi government implemented the excise policy on November 17, 2021, but scrapped it at the end of September 2022 amid allegations of corruption. Both Babu and Nair were arrested by the ED in November last year.