Low conviction rate has weakened the Centre’s ‘war against corruption’.

 

New Delhi: The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has managed only 15 convictions in the past 14 years, or barely one conviction every year since it got the mandate for investigations under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) in 2005. The low conviction rate has weakened the Centre’s war against corruption. 

As per ED’s data, probe by the ED secured convictions of only 15 individuals/ entities, including one high-profile fodder scam case. In the past 14 years, from 2005 to September 2019, the ED has registered 2,300 cases of money laundering and about 14,000 cases of forex violation. Given the number of the cases, the ED’s performance in terms of conviction, appears to be abysmally poor.

At present, the ED is probing many high-profile cases, including the INX Media one, against former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, who is out on bail.

Other cases with the ED include Sterling Biotech’s bank loan fraud, AgustaWestland, disproportionate assets case against Karnataka politician D.K. Shivakumar, case of ICICI bank loan to Videocon Industries, Punjab National Bank cases involving Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi and the Jammu & Kashmir Cricket Association case against Farooq Abdullah.

Defending the organisation, a senior ED official, on the condition of anonymity, told The Sunday Guardian: “The individual facing ED probe has all the rights to take the legal recourse, but the process consumes a lot of time. The role of an investigator is limited to the investigation and the prosecution part comes under the judiciary and any delay caused due to the judicial process is not the fault of ED. Blaming the ED will not solve any purpose.”

“There are only 1,005 staff, less than 50% of the total sanctioned staff capacity that is 2,064. Also, there are only 49 offices of ED, while the CBI has 100 plus offices across the country. In such a situation of manpower and infrastructure shortage, I think the ED has evolved better than any other similar agency,” the same official cited above said.

The conviction rate in the cases being probed by ED has been poor, but the agency, which had almost dropped from news headlines till recently, has acquired immense power since the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government has come to power at the Centre.

The ED data indicates improvement in the functioning of the agency. For example, during the UPA government’s period from 2012-13, a total of 212 cases were registered, of which only 11 cases reached the prosecution stage, while in 2017-18, during the BJP-led Central government’s first stint, a total of 148 cases were filed out of which 103 cases reached the prosecution process.

The value of assets attached by the ED (Rs in crore) in seven years from 2005-2012 was Rs 1,214.66; the same had gone up to Rs 7,432.04 in the fiscal year 2017-18, according to data.

ED is a specialised financial investigation agency under the Department of Revenue of the Union Ministry of Finance and works under two primary mandates—the Foreign Exchange Management Act, 1999 (FEMA), and Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002, which came into force from 2005.

Recently, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led Central government entrusted the ED with enforcing the new Fugitives Economic Offenders (FEO) Act, 2018 which gives it powers to confiscate property of fugitive economic offenders both within and outside India—whether or not the properties have been purchased from proceeds of crime. It also covers a wide array of white-collar offences that can lead to an individual being classified as an economic offender.