The Centre told the Supreme Court that only a small number of cases are being investigated under the PMLA in India compared with the situation abroad.

The government has told the Supreme Court that fugitive tycoons Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi, and Mehul Choksi have paid $18,000 crore to banks. The court is considering a series of petitions challenging the Enforcement Directorate’s broad powers in money laundering cases.

Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi

The Enforcement Directorate is investigating 4,700 PMLA cases in India, and the total proceeds of crime pending before the courts totals 67,000 crore, according to the Centre.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, referenced the data to demonstrate how a huge quantity of money is still stranded and not moving forward due to the protection conferred by courts.

“Some of the people who have left the country duping thousands of crores are getting protection of the courts.So far, a tune of ₹ 67000 crores is held up by the Courts by granting non-coercive actions,” he said.

Several top counsel, including Kapil Sibal, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, and Mukul Rohatgi, have filed representations to the Supreme Court in recent weeks, pointing to potential misuse of the recently amended Prevention of Money Laundering Act, or PMLA.

The law has been criticised for a number of issues, including stringent bail conditions, failure to communicate the grounds for arrest, arresting people without providing an ECIR (in addition to a First Information Report filed by the police), broadening the definition of money laundering, proceeds of crime, and making statements given by accused during investigation admissible as evidence during trial.

In India, a relatively limited number of cases are being investigated under the PMLA, compared to the situation elsewhere, the Centre told a bench of Justices AM Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari, and CT Ravikumar.

The Centre mentioned the United Kingdom, where 7,900 cases were brought under the Money Laundering Act in a single year, the United States (1,532), China (4,691), Austria (1,036), Hong Kong (1,823), Belgium (1,862), and Russia as examples (2,764).

According to the Centre, the number of cases taken up for inquiry in India over the previous five years has ranged from 111 in 2015-16 to 981 in 2020-21. For such offences, 33 lakh FIRs have been lodged in the last five years (from 2016-17 to 2020-21). However, only 2,086 cases were authorized.