A court here has sentenced two former Delhi Jal Board officials to three years of rigorous imprisonment in a money laundering case registered by the Enforcement Directorate, saying it was taking a "lenient view" in the matter.
Special Judge Ashwani Kumar Sarpal was hearing the case against Raj Kumar Sharma and Ramesh Chand Chaturvedi, who were sentenced to five years and four years imprisonment, respectively by a CBI court in December 2012 for misappropriating around Rs 47.76 lakh from the DJB and against whom the ED had registered a case in December 2009.
The anti-money laundering agency, however, filed the complaint in the present court in March 2021 after a delay of more than 11 years and around four years after the accused completed their sentence in the CBI case.
"The accused persons, after realising that they have no defence in this present prevention of money laundering Act (PMLA) matter after conviction in scheduled offences by the CBI court which was upheld by the Supreme Court, have pleaded guilty voluntarily," Special Judge Sarpal said in an order passed on Saturday.
"They have already undergone sentences of five and four years respectively in scheduled offences as well as have already spent the misappropriated or cheated money for their defence in the CBI case and other circumstances... so taking a lenient view, both the accused persons are hereby sentenced to undergo rigorous imprisonment of three years and also liable to pay a fine of Rs 5,000 each," the judge added.
Special Public Prosecutor Atul Tripathi appeared for the ED in the case.
Noting the submissions of the accused persons, such as the duo losing their government jobs, having the responsibility of a family, having a meagre income, and being reformed after the sentence, the judge said those could be "genuine reasons" but the court is "helpless" and cannot impose any sentence less than three years.
The judge also noted that according to the relevant provision of the PMLA, the minimum punishment was for three years and this meant even if the court took a "very lenient view", then also the minimum imprisonment of not less than three years had to be awarded.
"When there is a minimum punishment prescribed under any law, then the accused cannot be given any benefit of the Probation of Offenders Act and no discretion is left with the court to award a sentence less than the minimum," the judge said.
The judge further said that after the accused's conviction in the case registered by the CBI, which was upheld by the Supreme Court, they virtually were left with no defence and that is why they had chosen to plead guilty in the present complaint.
Rejecting the accused's arguments that imprisonment in the PMLA complaint case would amount to double jeopardy, the judge said to operate as a bar of double jeopardy, the second prosecution and consequential punishment must be for the same offence.
"The CBI case was relating to committing offences of cheating, misappropriation, criminal misconduct of the public servant while discharging official duty but the present complaint is relating to using, acquiring, concealing or claiming etc. of the proceeds of the said offences which amounts to money laundering and thus constitute a different offence.
"In such a situation, the question of double jeopardy does not arise, the judge said.
The court also refused to adjust the sentence awarded and undergone in the CBI matter in the present complaint case.
"No doubt this strong possibility of awarding concurrent sentences now has been snatched from the accused persons due to delayed complaint filed by ED but there was no limitation for filing the present complaint case and accordingly, the mere fact that ED has woken up after several years itself is not a ground to impose any sentence less than three years or to adjust this sentence with the earlier sentence undergone in CBI matter," the court said.
Sharma was working as a cashier in the west zone of the Delhi Jal Board, while Chaturvedi was the assistant meter reader in 2008.
According to the prosecution, from February 2008 to December 2008, the duo entered into a conspiracy by falsifying and forging the record and then misappropriated or cheated DJB by not depositing around Rs 47.76 in the bank.
The CBI had registered an FIR against the duo in June 2009.
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