The Delhi High Court on Monday allowed journalist Rana Ayyub to travel abroad for a scheduled function in Italy that she was slated to attend. The high court allowed Ayyub to travel after filing an undertaking to return to India and deposit some money to show bonafide.
Ayyub has also been directed to share her itinerary with the Enforcement Directorate including her contact and accommodation details.
While hearing Ayyub's plea, Justice Chandra Dhari Singh said today he was merely examining the legality of the LoC and whether Ayyub could be permitted to travel abroad.
The high court asked ED how it could defend the March 28 Lookout Circular (LoC) issued against Ayyub. "It is admitted fact by you that whenever summons was issued, she joined," Justice Chandra Dhari Singh observed. The judge added that non-cooperation was not reason enough to issue an LoC against an accused.
"If any accused person is appearing before an agency and the agency is saying the person is appearing but not cooperating, what is the stick to measure this? If there is non-cooperation, then why don't you arrest her?" the judge asked.
On March 31, Rana Ayyub was slated to deliver an in-person keynote address with the International Council for Journalists (ICFJ) in London on Gender-Based Online Violence Against Women Journalists. On March 29, Ayyub was prevented from boarding her flight, and the ED issued her summons to appear 15 minutes later.
From London, Ayyub was scheduled to travel to Italy on April 6 where she was going to speak at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia.
BOOM briefly recaps the arguments made during the hearing.
ED summons harassment to ensure I don't speak: Ayyub to HC
Rana Ayyub told the Delhi High Court that the 11th-hour Enforcement Directorate summons against her was not an investigation but a tool of harassment. "They want to make sure I don't speak," Ayyub's counsel senior advocate Vrinda Grover, along with advocates Soutik Banerjee, Mannat Tipnis, and Devika Tulsiani, told the high court.
"The entire operation is malafide. The press is the fourth pillar of democracy. I am someone who speaks truth to power. I ask tough questions," Grover said highlighting the main reason for ED's act of preventing her plans to travel abroad.
Grover told the high court there was nothing to prove that Ayyub evaded the agency summons. Grover asserted that Ayyub was more than keen to cooperate and that she was in constant touch with ED officials.
"I am volunteering to come again...Nobody summons me," Grover added. She said the LoC (Look Out Circular) was issued on 28 March, shortly after Ayyub announced her travel plans to London and Perugia on social media.
Ayyub lives in Mumbai with her aged parents and her brother's family, Grover added. Ayyub also had a return ticket for April 11. "I work here, I live here. What is there to show apprehension (of not returning to India)?" Grover asked.
Grover also questioned ED's logic of running away with the money despite the fact that the probe agencies have frozen the accounts.
"Can I run away with frozen money? I'm more than keen for ED to show that there is nothing hanky panky in the account. I have been cooperating," Grover submitted.
Ayyub siphoned money collected in guise of COVID relief: ED to HC
The Enforcement Directorate opposed Ayyub's plea to travel abroad on the grounds that there was apprehension that she would not return to India. Contrary to her submissions, Ayyub was not cooperating with the agency, Additional Solicitor General S Raju, for the ED, said.
The ED also refuted Ayyub's claims that the Mumbai zonal office transferred docs that were requested by the Delhi Office. "She is saying they are received from Bombay office which isn't correct. It's a serious matter. Our apprehension is that she may go out (abroad) and not come back," ED said.
"Despite repeated summons documents have not been supplied. According to us, fake bills have been provided. Prima facie there is a case of cheating. She cannot run away. As of today, she (Ayyub) is not cooperating. Appearance is not cooperation," Raju argued.
When the high court questioned the ED on what material it had against Ayyub, the agency said, "crores of money have spent by credit card".
"Now we want her to sit with us. Our case is money has not been used for Covid relief," Raju added.
Updated On: 2022-04-04T16:26:23+05:30