NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Wednesday held that Section 19 of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, which deals with the power to arrest, is reasonable nexus with the purposes and objects sought to be achieved by the 2002 Act of prevention of money-laundering and confiscation of proceeds of crime involved in money-laundering. "The challenge to the constitutional validity of Section 19 of the 2002 Act is also rejected. There are stringent safeguards provided in Section 19. The provision does not suffer from the vice of arbitrariness," the court said.
"We have no hesitation in upholding the validity of Section 19 of the 2002 Act. We reject the grounds pressed into service to declare Section 19 of the 2002 Act as unconstitutional," a bench of justices AM Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari and C.T. Ravikumar. "On the other hand, we hold that such a provision has reasonable nexus with the purposes and objects sought to be achieved by the 2002 Act of prevention of money-laundering and confiscation of proceeds of crime involved in money-laundering, including to prosecute persons involved in the process or activity connected with the proceeds of crime so as to ensure that the proceeds of crime are not dealt with in any manner which may result in frustrating any proceedings relating to confiscation thereof," the court said.
Section 19 of the 2002 Act postulates the manner in which the arrest of a person involved in money laundering can be affected. Sub-section (1) of Section 19 envisages that the Director, Deputy Director, Assistant Director, or any other officer authorised on this behalf by the Central Government, if has material in his possession giving rise to a reason to believe that any person has been guilty of an offence punishable under the 2002 Act, he may arrest such person. Besides the power being invested in high-ranking officials, Section 19 provides for inbuilt safeguards to be adhered to by the authorised officers, such as recording reasons for the belief regarding the involvement of a person in the offence of money laundering. The safeguards ensure that the authorised officers do not act arbitrarily, but make them accountable for their judgment about the necessity to arrest any person as being involved in the commission of the offence of money-laundering even before filing the complaint before the Special Court under Section 44(1)(b) of the 2002 Act in that regard, the court noted.
"If the action of the authorised officer is found to be vexatious, he can be proceeded with and inflicted with punishment specified under Section 62 of the 2002 Act. The safeguards to be adhered to by the jurisdictional police officer before effecting arrest as stipulated in the 1973 Code, are certainly not comparable," the court observed. "Suffice it to observe that this power has been given to the high-ranking officials with further conditions to ensure that there is objectivity and their own accountability in resorting to arrest of a person even before a formal complaint is filed under Section 44(1)(b) of the 2002 Act," the court said.