Staff crunch hits trial of benami assets cases

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NEW DELHI , APR 26,
Close to 18 months after the Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Amendment Act was enacted, the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) Adjudicating Authority has cited acute manpower crunch for not being able to dispose of all the ‘benami’ assets cases.
In a letter to the Finance Ministry, a senior official requested that Benami Prohibition Units of the Income-Tax (I-T) department be told to hold back new cases till a separate Authority is constituted for the purpose.
750 cases pending
Only 35 cases have been disposed of since March 2017, while over 750 are pending hearing with the Authority.
The I-T department issues orders for provisional attachment of assets under the Act. Based on the findings, after hearing all the parties, the Adjudicating Authority confirms the attachments, which leads to confiscation of the properties.
High-profile cases
The Authority also handles all the cases of asset attachments put up by the Enforcement Directorate under the PMLA. The ED has attached properties in several high-profile cases, which include those against Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi. Expressing concern over manpower shortage, the Authority has also asked the Ministry for immediate appointments to ensure that the pending cases are disposed of within the stipulated time. After the retirement of the Authority’s Chairman Mukesh Kumar in March, an official said, “There is an additional burden on the current double bench, comprising an acting Chairman and a Member (Law), which takes up the ‘benami’ property cases.”
It, therefore, sought the appointment of an additional member at the earliest.
The Authority has already requested the Ministry to provide more office staff for assistance to the courts. While the proposal is under the consideration of the government, it has sought additional contractual staff for the time being to handle ‘benami’ property cases.

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