The Supreme Court on August 26 said that the Enforcement Directorate’s reports about the conduct of promoters of the embattled firm Unitech Group and the connivance of Tihar jail staff in flouting the orders and undermining the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court have raised serious and disturbing issues and directed that Sanjay Chandra and Ajay Chandra be shifted from Tihar Jail here to Mumbai's Arthur Road Jail and Taloga jail in Maharashtra.
It also directed that Delhi Police Commissioner personally hold an inquiry about the conduct of Tihar Jail staff with regard to Chandras and submit the report to the court within four weeks.
A bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and M R Shah said the brothers will be lodged separately in Arthur Road and Taloja prisons.
“We are of the view that materials on record indicates that despite the orders of this court, activities are taking place within the premises of Tihar Central Jail, where the two accused are lodged, which have the propensity to undermine the authority of the court, as also to derail the investigations which have been ordered to be done by the ED including but not confined to the PMLA.”
"In the circumstances, we direct that both the accused Ajay Chandra and Sanjay Chandra be shifted from Tihar Central Jail to the premises of Arthur Road Jail, Mumbai and at Taloja Central Jail,” the bench said in its order.
The Enforcement Directorate, which is investigating money laundering charges against Unitech’s Chandras, revealed to the Supreme Court on August 26 that Ramesh Chandra and Sanjay Chandra were operating a "secret underground office” in South Delhi from the Tihar jail. The office was visited by his sons Sanjay Chandra and Ajay Chandra when on parole or bail.
It said in its report that the Chandras have rendered the entire judicial custody meaningless as they have been freely communicating, instructing their officials and disposing of properties from inside the jail in connivance with the prison staff there.
“They (Chandras') have been operating from inside the jail premises. They have rendered the entire judicial custody otiose. They are freely communicating and passing on instructions with the help of people deputed outside the jail premises. ED has found that they have even tried to influence a dummy director when he was being interrogated by the agency,” Additional Solicitor General Madhavi Divan said while appearing for the ED
During the hearing, the bench told Additional Solicitor General Madhavi Divan, appearing for ED, Tihar jail officials have actively connived with the accused to flout the orders of this court.
‘Tihar Jail superintendent and his staff are absolutely shameless’
“We have to say that the Tihar Jail superintendent and his staff are absolutely shameless. But we don't want to miss wood for the trees. Can you imagine it is happening right in the Centre and in the Capital? We will certainly take them to task. We will first shift the accused from this jail. The two ED reports have raised some serious and disturbing issues for consideration and will be dealt with accordingly,” the top court said.
The apex court directed the Delhi Police Commissioner to personally hold inquiry about the conduct of Tihar Jail staff with regard to the Chandras and submit the report to the court within four weeks.
The bench said the contents of the ED letter written to Delhi CP raises serious issues and of concern to the court in particular is that its effort and jurisdiction are sought to be undermined in complicity with the jail staff.
It said ED's submission that computers and other documents seized in the search and seizure operation should be given to the new board of management of Unitech cannot be accepted as these things should remain with the investigating agency to enable it probe all aspects. This is not a court monitored investigation.
“We want ED to probe all aspects untrammelled. Your (ED) power is untrammelled. We don't want these computers and documents to be handed over to anyone else."
"If you need a forensic auditor, you can engage the one the court has engaged and if you want someone else to assess, then you can hire. There is no impediment on that, the bench said, adding that the court should be apprised of the status of investigation in four weeks,” the bench said.
It noted that in 2019 an order was passed directing that facilities which were given to Chandra brothers for disposing of properties and generating funds for the stalled projects were revoked.
Earlier in the day, the bench was told by Additional Solicitor General Madhavi Divan, appearing for the ED, that Chandras' have deputed their officials outside the jail to communicate their instructions to outside world.
ED revealed to the SC that it has found secret underground office of erstwhile Unitech founders in South Delhi that was being operated from Tihar jail. Hundreds of original property sale deeds, digital signatures and computers with sensitive info seized from Unitech's secret office, ED told the Supreme Court.
"We have recovered hundreds of original sale deeds from that office, hundreds of digital signatures and several computers which contain sensitive data with regard to their properties in India and abroad, Divan told the bench.
She said the probe agency has submitted two status reports in sealed cover to the court and have provisionally attached Unitech Ltd properties worth Rs 600 crore both in India and abroad.
Divan also said that the ED has found an intricate web of money trail through shell companies and the properties are being disposed of in real time, which is creating problem in the probe.
Senior advocates Vikas Singh and Siddharth Dave, appearing for the Chandra brothers, said that ED has made prejudicial arguments to persuade the court that they do not get default bail, which they are entitled to in this case.
“I have nothing to hide. What reliefs are given to the new management, had it been given to me, I would have constructed all the flats and delivered it to the home buyers. The court should not act on the prejudicial arguments made by ED,” Singh said, while denying all the wrong doing alleged by ED saying both the brothers have been following the jail manual.
On June 4, the top court had granted 15-day interim bail to Sanjay Chandra to attend the last rites of his father-in-law after which he had surrendered.
On August 14 last year, the top court had dismissed the bail plea of Chandra, who was a month earlier granted interim bail for 30 days on "humanitarian grounds" as both his parents had tested positive for COVID-19, and asked him to surrender within three days.
The apex court had also dismissed the bail application of Chandra's brother Ajay Chandra, who is in jail since August 2017.
The top court in its October 2017 order had asked them to deposit Rs 750 crore with the apex court registry by December 31, 2017. Both Sanjay and Ajay are accused of allegedly siphoning home buyers' money.On August 25, the Supreme Court permitted the new board of management of Unitech Group to hold negotiations with the three Asset Reconstruction Companies (ARCs) about the outstanding dues and the settlement agreement and apprise it within four weeks.