A special court in Delhi set aside the Lookout Circular issued by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) against former Amnesty India head Aakar Patel after observing that it was "bad in law". The special court directed Patel to appear before the trial court and furnish a bond for his appearance.
However, Patel cannot travel abroad yet. According to today's order, he has to take prior permission from the trial court if he wants to leave the country.
Special CBI Judge Santosh Snehi Mann partly set aside the trial court's order that directed the CBI director to acknowledge the lapse by his subordinate and issue a written apology to Patel. This means the CBI director does not have to apologise to Patel. Judge Mann also set aside the order allowing Patel to seek compensation for the financial losses incurred.
The special judge said the CBI did "not have unbridled power" to investigate and prosecute cases. In glaring cases of excesses committed in actions, there may arise the need for fixing accountability, however, in the present case, the LOC was issued on wrong interpretation and understanding of the law, and not out of any "malice or ill will".
In this case, the CBI showed a lack of understanding of the relevant law when it issued the LOC against Patel. The judge further pointed out that the investigation against Amnesty India—where Patel for the Executive Director and thus responsible for the alleged FCRA irregularities—was already complete and the matter is at the stage of consideration of chargesheet by the trial court.
The judge observed that the LOC was bad in law because Patel had joined the investigation when called upon; did not try to hamper the investigation or tamper with the evidence. Instead of issuing the LOC, the CBI could have taken an alternate recourse to ensure Patel's presence in court, the judge said.
The special court's order on Saturday was given on an appeal filed by the CBI against a trial court order directing the probe agency to withdraw the LOC issued against Patel.
On April 6, immigration authorities at Bengaluru airport informed Patel that he was not allowed to fly to the United States of America (USA) on account of a lookout circular the CBI has issued against him. Patel was scheduled to deliver lectures at a couple of universities in the US and his plea requested permission to go to the USA till May 30.
A day later, on April 7, hours after the trial court directed the CBI to withdraw the LOC, Patel was stopped by immigration authorities again. Patel was informed that the LOC was not withdrawn despite a court order prompting the former amnesty India head to file a contempt plea against the CBI.
The contempt plea is still pending.