The Supreme Court on January 25, 2023, asked a Ghaziabad Special Judge in Uttar Pradesh to adjourn the summons proceedings scheduled against journalist Rana Ayyub in a money laundering case. Senior Advocate Vrinda Grover appeared for the journalist, who is the petitioner in this case. The Ghaziabad court was supposed to hear the case on January 27. Ayyub had approached the Supreme court against the summons issued to her, when the matter came up before a bench of Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice PS Narasimha the previous week. The Supreme court stated that its appeal to defer the hearing in Ghaziabad did not concern itself with the merits of the matter and was only a measure taken due to paucity of time. A bench of Justices Krishna Murari and V Ramasubramanian posted the matter for a thorough hearing on January 31.
In her writ petition, Ayyub has sought quashing of the proceedings initiated by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in Ghaziabad citing absence of jurisdiction as the alleged offence of money laundering happened in Mumbai. On November 29, 2022, the special Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) Court in Ghaziabad had taken cognizance of the prosecution complaint filed by the ED and summoned Ayyub. The ED charge sheet was filed under Section 45 read with Section 44 of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002. The Special Court judge had said that there was sufficient evidence as to a prima facie case for taking cognizance against Ms. Ayyub pertaining to commission of offence. The Court clarified that her alleged crime was taking money illegally from the general public under the garb of charity through Ketto, an online crowdfunding platform. This occurred in three campaigns without any approval, raising a substantial amount in the bank account of her sister and father, and transferring it into her own bank account which was not used for the envisioned purpose – to help those impacted by COVID-19, slum dwellers and farmers, relief work for Assam, Bihar and Maharashtra.
On October 12, 2022, the ED had filed a charge sheet against Ayyub, accusing her of deceiving the public and using the sum of Rs 2.69 crore she received in charity for generating personal assets, and also breaching the foreign contribution law. “Rana Ayyub launched three fundraiser charity campaigns on the ‘Ketto platform’ starting from April 2020 and collected funds totalling Rs 2,69,44,680,” the ED mentioned in its statement. The ED had also claimed that “In order to claim more expenses towards relief work, fake bills were submitted by Ayyub and subsequently, bank balances in the accounts of Ayyub amounting to Rs 1,77,27,704 (including FD of Rs 50 Lakh) were attached under the PMLA vide a provisional attachment order dated February 4, 2022”. It also claimed that Ayyub received foreign contributions without registration und Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), 1976.
Rana Ayyub denied these allegations and said that the chargesheet was “yet another example of the abuse of PMLA law and misuse of law enforcement agencies” to silence her, a “voice that questions and critiques the ruling regime”. On the allegation of using her father’s and sister’s bank accounts, Ms. Ayyub had stated “My personal bank account could not be used at that time as Ketto required the physical copy of my PAN card to be furnished immediately, which at that time was unavailable.” Regarding the allegations under the FCRA, Ayyub clarified that she never received money from foreign donors. However, Ketto did, and she had asked Ketto to return the money to foreign donors, using only donations received from within India for the relief efforts.
Senior counsel Vrinda Grover argued that the suspected proceeds of the offence are at a bank account located in Navi Mumbai and no fragment of the incident occurred in Uttar Pradesh. She highlighted out that Ayyub was never arrested when the investigation was being carried out and entirely cooperated with it. Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta, appearing for the ED, responded stating that Ms. Ayyub could seek regular remedies, as every citizen is equal in eyes of law. Hence, she could file for an anticipatory bail application. Justice Murari said that the matter will be put up on January 30. Also, rather than passing interim orders, the Supreme Court will request the Ghaziabad Special court to postpone the hearing.