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SC Stays Delhi HC Order In Fraud Case Involving Ex-Promoter Of Bhushan Steel

The Supreme Court stayed the Delhi High Court and said that Neeraj Singal, ex-promoter, Bhushan Steel cannot be compelled to sign documents by the SFIO under the company law

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The Supreme Court yesterday stayed the operation of a Delhi High Court verdict that had held that Neeraj Singal, ex-promoter of Bhushan Steel and an accused in an alleged Rs 2,500-crore fraud case, could not be compelled by the Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO) to sign documents under the companies law.

The apex court, however, did not interfere with the high court order granting interim bail to Singal and said he can remain out, subject to observing certain conditions including reporting to the SFIO officer concerned.

A bench comprising Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud, however, took strong note of the haste shown by the high court in executing its order granting bail to Singal on August 29, despite the fact that the top court had kept the appeal of SFIO against the order for hearing the next day.

"We may only observe that urgent mentioning of the case was made before the bench presided over by the Chief Justice of India and hearing thereon continued after court hours on August 29.

"The matter was directed to be listed on the next day on August 30. Propriety demanded that the high court should have showed deference and awaited orders in the present proceedings.

"The haste with which the high court was moved on the evening of August 29 at around 5:20 PM to implement its order, despite this court being seized of the proceedings would indicate an attempt by Neeraj Singal to pre-­empt the hearing before this court by securing release. We express our disapproval," the bench said.

The bench then transferred to itself the plea filed by Singal in the high court and said the observations of the high court with regard to the constitutional validity of sections 212(6)(ii) and 212(7) (which deals with the power of SFIO to probe fraud cases) of the Companies Act "ought not to have weighed with the high court for grant of interim relief".

"The operation of the impugned order of the high court is stayed but the interim relief granted to Neeraj Singal limited to his release on personal bond shall remain in force during the pendency of these proceedings, subject to the fulfilment of the conditions imposed by the high court for his release and additionally to report to the concerned officer of SFIO on every Monday and Thursday between 10:30 AM and 12:30 PM. and on such other day or time as directed by the officer concerned," the bench said.

The apex court made it clear that the high court's directions to SFIO that Singal "shall not be compelled by the SFIO to sign his statement" under the provisions of the Companies Act shall remain stayed.

The top court also gave liberty to SFIO to file a fresh plea for recall of the interim bail granted to Singal and said that application "will be considered on its own merits".

It said the observations of the high court "may have far reaching consequences" on the power of SFIO and may deprive it from proceeding in the matter in accordance with the provisions of the Companies Act in respect of probes including filing of complaint or police report in serious financial frauds.

"The impugned order, therefore, deserves to be stayed. We order accordingly," it said. The Delhi High Court had on August 29 granted bail to Singal, arrested by the SFIO for allegedly siphoning off Rs 2,500 crore of public funds.

The apex court was hearing an SFIO plea to stay the Delhi High Court order in the case. The SFIO had earlier said Singal is accused of siphoning off Rs 2,500 crore of public funds, and his release will cause grave harm to the ongoing probe, which has reached an advanced stage.

The probe agency had also assailed the high court's direction that the accused be not compelled to sign documents during the investigation of the fraud case. It had sought a stay on the high court order, claiming that the accused usurped public money taken through bank loans. Singal was arrested on August 8.