PMLA Inapplicable Using Section 120-B IPC without Nexus to Scheduled Offence: Supreme Court

In a recent development, the Supreme Court of India has adjudicated on the review petitions filed against its landmark judgment concerning the applicability of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA). The said judgment, delivered on November 29, 2023, in the case of Pavana Dibbur Vs. Directorate of Enforcement delineated the parameters under which proceedings under the PMLA can be initiated vis-à-vis Section 120-B of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). A bench comprising Justices Abhay S Oka and Pankaj Mithal, in their ruling, dismissed the review petitions filed by the Directorate of Enforcement and Alliance University.

The crux of the judgment lies in clarifying the interplay between Section 120-B of the IPC, pertaining to criminal conspiracy, and the initiation of proceedings under the PMLA. The Supreme Court’s ruling elucidates that for an offence under Section 120-B to be deemed a scheduled offence under the PMLA, the alleged conspiracy must be directed towards committing an offence specifically enumerated in the schedule of the PMLA. This legal interpretation serves as a pivotal determinant in the applicability of the PMLA in cases involving purported criminal conspiracies.

In the case at hand, a complaint filed by the Enforcement Directorate on March 7, 2022, against the former Vice-Chancellor of Alliance University ignited legal contention. The Enforcement Directorate charged the petitioner under sections 44 and 45 of the PMLA, citing offences defined under section 3 read with sections 8(5) and 70, punishable under section 4 of the PMLA. The allegations revolved around purported acts of conspiracy during the petitioner’s tenure as VC, involving financial impropriety and money laundering.

The enforcement authorities invoked Section 120-B of the IPC to substantiate the application of the PMLA, despite the absence of predicate offences enumerated in the schedule of the PMLA. This procedural manoeuvre prompted legal scrutiny and subsequent legal proceedings.

Initially, the Special Judge proceeded with the case, prompting the petitioner to approach the Karnataka High Court seeking redressal under Section 482 of the Criminal Procedure Code (Cr.P.C.). However, the High Court, drawing upon precedents and legal interpretations, upheld the invocation of the PMLA, asserting that participation in activities facilitating money laundering falls within the ambit of the Act, even if not directly linked to the principal offence.

Unsatisfied with the High Court’s ruling, the appellant escalated the matter to the Supreme Court, which culminated in the aforementioned judgment dismissing the review petitions. The Supreme Court’s reaffirmation of its stance underscores the significance of ensuring a nexus between the alleged conspiracy and scheduled offences under the PMLA, thereby safeguarding against arbitrary application and ensuring legal coherence.

In conclusion, the Supreme Court’s adjudication on the review petitions reaffirms the jurisprudential principles governing the application of the PMLA in cases involving allegations of conspiracy. This ruling serves as a pivotal precedent, delineating the contours within which enforcement agencies can invoke the provisions of the PMLA, thereby upholding the rule of law and ensuring legal precision in combating financial malfeasance and money laundering.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. The content may not reflect the most current legal developments and is not guaranteed to be accurate, complete, or up-to-date. Readers should consult a qualified legal professional before taking any action based on the information provided. The authors and publishers disclaim any liability for any loss or damage incurred as a result of reliance on this article. This article does not create an attorney-client relationship.

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