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New Delhi, Jul 8 (PTI) The Delhi High Court on Friday directed the Enforcement Directorate to attend to a representation made by Chinese smartphone maker Vivo seeking permission to deal with its frozen bank accounts for making payments towards certain liabilities.
Justice Yashwant Varma also sought the stand of the investigating agency on Vivo's petition against the freezing of its bank accounts in connection with a money-laundering probe initiated by it.
“Mr. Zoheb Hossain, learned counsel appearing for the Enforcement Directorate (ED), is requested to obtain instructions in respect of the reliefs as prayed in the writ petition,” said the court as it directed that the matter be listed for further consideration on July 13.
“In the meanwhile and bearing in mind the financial constraints which are expressed in the writ petition and are also set forth in the representation of July 7, 2022, the court directs the respondent (ED) to attend to that representation in light of the power of according prior permission to deal with the seized property as is envisaged (in the PMLA Act),” ordered the court.
Senior advocates Sidharth Luthra and Siddharth Aggarwal, appearing for Vivo, submitted that the freezing of the bank accounts has brought the functioning of the petitioner to a standstill and there are crores of rupees that have to be paid as statutory dues apart from the payment of salaries to its employees.
They said that there was “no factual foundational basis” behind the search operation and the freezing of the bank account was the petitioner's “civil death”.
“Statutory liabilities on an average every day is Rs 25 plus crores…Today, Rs 40.5 crore is what is the actual total payment – Rs 25 crore is statutory dues. Tomorrow, I have to pay Rs 52 crore as custom duty,” Luthra said.
“They say one of the distributors who was working down the chain is an entity whose creation is in doubt... I am not that distributor and therefore even if you want to investigate, you have done your search and seizure. There is no account that is left untouched,” he submitted.
Advocate Zoheb Hossain, who represented the ED, informed the court that the search operation would conclude during the course of the day and the agency would then send the relevant material to the adjudicating authority under the law and that the present petition was premature.
The petitioner should await the conclusion of the statutory processes, he said.
The lawyer further claimed that when the search operation was being conducted, the “employees were trying to abscond, they were trying to hide digital devices and they were not cooperating.”
He informed the court that around 2014, a company –GPICPL-- was set up based on forged documents by “one person who is also the common ex-director of the petitioner”.
“An FIR came to be registered last year. 18 similar companies across India have been set up by Bin Lou (common ex-director of the petitioner). Large amounts of incriminating material have been found and are being analysed. All orders of Vivo were being placed through these 18 companies including GPICPL which alone has handled Rs 1200 crores,” Hossain said.
“In the larger scheme of things, there is some serious concern in the manner in which this is going on and there are proceeds of crime,” he added.
On Thursday, the investigating agency said that Rs 62,476 crore has been "illegally" transferred by Vivo to China to avoid payment of taxes in India.
This money is almost half of Vivo's turnover of Rs 1,25,185 crore, it had said without stating the time period of the transaction.
The urgent listing of Vivo's plea was allowed earlier in the day by a bench of Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma and Justice Subramonium Prasad.
The probe agency, on July 5, raided several places across the country in the money laundering investigation against Vivo and related firms. The searches were carried out under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) in several states, including Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Meghalaya, and Maharashtra.
Vivo, in its petition, has sought to set aside the ED's orders to freeze its bank accounts.
"Due to the amounts in the bank accounts being unavailable to the petitioner, the petitioner will be unable to pay its statutory dues (such as customs duties, GST, TDS, etc) to various authorities, as well as other expenses (such as salaries, rent, etc) because of which its business has now been set on a path towards a commercial and civil death," the petition said.
The ED has filed the money laundering case after taking cognisance of a recent FIR of Delhi Police's Economic Offences Wing against a distributor of an agency based in Jammu and Kashmir where it was alleged that a few Chinese shareholders in that company forged their identity documents.
The ED suspects this alleged forgery was done to launder illegally generated funds using shell or paper companies and some of these "proceeds of crime" were diverted to stay under the radar of Indian tax and enforcement agencies.PTI ADS SKV RKS