ED Is Claiming it Has a High Conviction Rate – But it Has Closed Only 25 Cases Since 2005

Among the 5,906 cases registered since 2005, the agency has managed to complete the investigation and file a chargesheet in only 1,142 cases.

New Delhi: Since 2005, the Enforcement Directorate (ED), one of the premier investigating agencies in India handling economic offences, has registered 5,906 cases. Of them, the agency has managed to dispose only of 25 cases, a mere 0.42% of the total cases. But the agency wants one to pay attention to only this small number while making a claim of a 96% conviction rate.

Of the 25 cases, the agency has managed convictions in 24 cases. But the fact that in its 17 years of existence, the agency has managed to conclude only 25 cases, is glaring and quite telling of both how the state machinery and judiciary work.

The central probe agency has published updated data of its action under the three laws it implements – the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) and the Fugitive Economic Offenders Act (FEOA) – till January 31, 2023.

The agency attributes the low disposal rate to relatively new PMLA law, which came into being only in 2005, and “wealthy accused persons”, who have been able to engage “good lawyers” to use legal strategies and frustrate the prosecution’s attempt to expedite the investigation.

The ruling BJP government, from time to time, is being accused of weaponising the agency, especially against the opposition leaders refusing to toe the line. From Maharashtra’s former Mahavikas Aghadi government ministers to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leaders in Delhi, many opposition leaders have faced the agency’s wrath in recent years. But the agency, in the recently released data, has stated that in only 3% of the total cases, incumbent and former elected representatives are accused. It further said that of the 5,906 cases, only 176 involve sitting and former MPs, MLAs and MLCs.

These numbers were put into perspective in a detailed report published in The Indian Express in September last year. It finds that close to 85% of the cases involving politicians were registered against those from the opposition. The ED’s pattern, the Express story says, mirrored the pattern followed by another central agency, the CBI. The Express had also found a “sharp uptick” in the number of Opposition politicians, and their close relatives, who have come under its scanner “since the NDA-II government came to power in 2014”. “The investigation shows that 121 prominent politicians have been under ED probe since that year, of whom the agency booked, raided, questioned or arrested as many as 115 Opposition leaders — 95%, and that, too, with a staff strength that is less than one-third of the CBI,” according to the Express report.

Among the 5,906 cases, the agency has managed to complete the investigation and file a chargesheet in only 1,142 cases. This number is significantly low as the agency, like most other central agencies, is accused of only filing cases and not pursuing them to a logical end.

Scroll too conducted an investigation into the ED’s functioning, and found that cases have risen astronomically since the 2019 amendments to the PMLA. “Between April 2020 and March 2021, when India spent months under a lockdown to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, 981 cases were filed under PMLA – the highest since the law came into existence,” the Scroll report notes. “The conviction rate in money laundering cases, though, remains dismal.”

Even here, the numbers point to opposition leaders being targeted: “Leaders from virtually every major Opposition party in India are battling money laundering cases. Crucially, the investigations have often surfaced when these politicians were locked in high-stakes battles with the BJP.”