HC dismisses second bail plea of former TN Minister Senthil Balaji

Balaji was arrested by ED last year in connection with a money laundering case

senthil balaji.tw V. Senthil Balaji

The Madras High Court on Wednesday dismissed the second bail petition filed by former Tamil Nadu Minister V. Senthil Balaji, who was arrested by the ED last year in connection with a money laundering case.

This was the second time in four months, that the DMK leader's plea for the relief was rejected by the HC.

Justice N. Anand Venkatesh said, "In the light of the above discussion, this court does not find any merits in this bail petition and accordingly, the same is hereby dismissed".

The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has identified the proceeds of crime at Rs.67.74 crores.

"If the petitioner is let out on bail in a case of this nature, it will send a wrong signal and it will be against larger public interest. Therefore, this Court holds that even under Section 439 Cr.PC, the petitioner is not entitled to be considered for enlargement on bail", the judge added.

The judge said the petitioner has suffered incarceration for more than eight months and therefore, it will be more appropriate to direct the Special Court, to dispose of the case within a time frame. Accordingly, there shall be a direction to the Principal Special Court, Chennai, to dispose of the case within a period of three months from the date of receipt of copy of this order.

The trial shall be conducted on a day to day basis in accordance with the guidelines given by the Supreme Court in Vinod Kumar Vs State of Punjab case, the judge added.

The judge said the court was not able to agree with the petitioner's contention that he has resigned as a Minister and therefore, the apprehension that he will tamper with the evidence and influence the witnesses, no longer subsists.

The petitioner resigned from the post of Minister without a portfolio just one day prior to the hearing of this bail petition. The fact that the accused continued to remain as a Minister for nearly eight months and that too without a portfolio when he was inside the jail, shows the tremendous influence of the petitioner and the importance that was given to him by the State Government, the judge added.

The judge said even if the petitioner had resigned as a minister, he continues as a MLA belonging to the same party which was running the Government in the State and therefore, without any hesitation, "this Court holds that the petitioner continues to wield a lot of influence on the Government."

When such was the position, the witnesses who were mostly the officials belonging to the Metropolitan Transport Corporation and the prospective job seekers who had paid the money, will be influenced/tampered with, the judge added.

The court said the past conduct of the petitioner shows that in the predicate offence the complainant was made to compromise the dispute and only after the interference of the Apex Court, the predicate offences revived and it resulted in filing of the final reports. This past conduct also has a lot of bearing in this case, the judge added.

The Court was also took into consideration the larger interest of the Public/State since the petitioner was involved in a cash-for-job scam by misusing his position as a Transport Minister and thereby, genuine aspirants for the job were deprived of level playing field and in their place, persons who paid money were accommodated.

The judge said the final report has been filed in the predicate offences by relying upon the very same documents and the petitioner has never questioned the genuineness of those documents till date. The ED has merely collected those documents in the predicate offence and in order to add authenticity, it has also been certified by the Special Court dealing with the predicate offence.

Therefore, this Court was not convinced that the ED has indulged in tampering with the electronic records or that such tampering had even taken place or any such thing had been done by it in the predicate offences, the judge added.

There was a large scale manipulation resorted to which has been explained and it shows that payments have been made by many job aspirants for jobs either directly or through the associates to B Shanmugam and M Karthikeyan, who were the unofficial personal assistants of the petitioner during the relevant point of time, the judge added.

He said if there was a prima facie material to show that the amount has been received by misusing the position of the petitioner who was the then Transport Minister, that by itself will be construed as proceeds of crime and it was not necessary for the ED to further establish that such proceeds of crime was projected as untainted money subsequently.

The judge said the statements that have been recorded from the witnesses and which has been relied upon, was also a strong material that prima facie establishes the offence of money laundering against the petitioner.

The judge said, "the petitioner has not made out a case by satisfying this Court that there are reasonable grounds for believing that he is not guilty".

Balaji was arrested on June 14. 2023 by the ED in connection with a money laundering case linked to a cash-for-jobs scam when he was the Transport Minister during an earlier AIADMK regime.

The ED had on August 12 filed a 3000 page charge-sheet against Balaji. The Madras HC had on October 19 dismissed Balaji's earlier bail plea.

A local court has also dismissed thrice, his bail petitions. 


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