The Delhi High Court Thursday sought Enforcement Directorate’s response on the bail plea by Delhi-based freelance journalist Rajeev Sharma who was arrested in connection with a money-laundering probe linked to alleged leakage and supply of sensitive information to Chinese intelligence officers.
Justice Mukta Gupta directed the agency to file its status report within two weeks and clarify the journalist’s connection with the allegedly illegal financial transactions.
“Please tell your officers to justify the connection with the petitioner. If he is in receipt of money from shell companies, it is an illegal offences. But there has to be admissible evidence to connect him,” the judge told the ED’s counsel.
ED counsel Zoheb Hossain stated that Sharma received cash from a shell company run by the Chinese and investigation was ongoing.
“Investigation into further proceeds of crime is going on. Rs 48 lakh is what they have found till date,” he said.
Senior advocate Mohit Mathur, appearing for Sharma, submitted that the alleged money laundering case arises out a police case under the Official Secrets Act (OSA), in which his client was released on default bail last year.
“I’m given default bail by the high court in December 2020. In February 2021, ECIR is registered. I join the proceedings. On July 1, I am called and arrested. Nothing is forthcoming. It is becoming a trend that anybody says anything..,” he said.
Sharma has already furnished all details pertaining to financial truncations and bank accounts to the agency, he said.
“An offence under the Official Secrets Act is not a scheduled offence. They are roping me in on the basis of Section 120B (conspiracy),” Mathur added.
On July 17, a sessions court here had denied bail to Sharma, saying that if released on bail, he would definitely attempt to wipe off the footprints and cover up the traces.
Dismissing the journalist’s bail application, the judge had said, “Sharma received lakhs of rupees on multiple occasions, invariably in cash, from dubious sources” and failed to furnish any palpable explanation regarding the receipt of the said money.
“It is further intriguing to note that the annual income of the accused was reported to be barely Rs 8.6 lakh and yet he is financing his son”s education abroad, enjoying multiple foreign trips and is even lending lakhs of rupees to his friends and acquaintances for investment purposes,” the judge noted.
The agency had told the sessions court that its probe found that Sharma “had supplied confidential and sensitive information to Chinese intelligence officers in exchange for remuneration, thereby compromising the security and national interests of India”.
The ED arrested Sharma under sections of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) on July 1.
The ED case is based on a Delhi Police FIR filed under the OSA and various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) against Sharma last year.
The journalist was arrested by the special cell of the Delhi Police on September 14 last year and charged with passing on information about the Indian Army’s deployment and the country’s border strategy to Chinese intelligence officers.
He was granted bail by the Delhi High Court in the case in December last year.
The case would be heard next on September 9.