Officers of integrity are the bedrock of strong societies. Nations thrive when they occupy key positions, especially while dealing with matters of public interest. Such a role is that of an Enforcement Directorate, a specialised law enforcement agency that functions under the Department of Revenue, Ministry of Finance, Government of India.
The Enforcementdirectorate.gov.in defines the role of ED as a “multi-disciplinary organisation mandated with investigation of offence of money laundering and violations of foreign exchange laws.”
In many ways, the EG is even greater than the state police — the latter functions under the administrative control of the state government. The Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) has granted the ED special powers. According to the PMLA Act, a statement recorded by an ED officer is admissible in court as evidence. However, any statement made by an accused to the police is inadmissible as evidence in a court of law.
An ED officer sends shivers down the spine of politicians. Such is the power of this agency that right from influential people to owners of big business empires are mindful of any maleficent action that could lead to an ED probe.
Such an officer Sanjay Kumar Mishra has helmed the ED agency. The unalloyed faith that Centre has in him could be gauged in the number of extensions he has been awarded with. The Supreme Court extended his tenure by 46 days till September 15 in the larger public interest, even though it had said that his last two extensions weren’t legal. Back then, the top court asked whether his continuity was a telling reflection of not too many competent hands in the system.
Back to Mishra who has worn multiple hats in, what has been, a glittering career. An Indian Revenue Service (IRS) officer of the Income Tax cadre from the 1984 batch, he served in the Foreign Tax division of the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT). He was also the chief commissioner of the Income Tax Department in New Delhi.
The year 2018 was probably the most eventful phase. He was named the new chief of the Enforcement Directorate in an additional capacity and given charge of ED Director for three months. It was a matter of time before he took charge as full-time ED chief (for two years).
His impeccable record as a man of integrity got him an extension by a year — his term was to end on November 13, 2020. However, the extensions continued. He was awarded another term till November 18, 2022, and was granted another extension till November 2023, according to a news portal.
Blessed with an elephantine memory and known for his no-nonsense attitude, Mishra acquired a reputation for resolving complex cases quickly. That’s primarily because he has maintained a clean slate throughout his career — politicians and influential people can’t aspire to get close to him.
Under Mishra, the ED transferred attached assets worth more than Rs 19,000 crore to Public Sector Banks which bled losses owing to huge financial embezzlement committed by businessmen Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi, and Mehul Choksi.
During his tenure, he has tightened scrutiny for many leaders and ministers. His agency, according to reports, registered 4,000 cases and conducted 3,000 searches.
Under his watch, ED investigated:
- Senior Congress leader and former Union minister P Chidambaram, his son and MP Karthi Chidambaram in the INX Media case.
- Washington Post columnist Rana Ayyub in connection with the PM CARES money laundering case.
- Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut for alleged involvement in the Patra Chawl scam.
- AAP leader Satyendar Jain in a money laundering case.
- NCP leader Nawab Malik for his alleged association with Dawood Ibrahim.
- TMC leader Partha Chatterjee in connection with the SSC recruitment scam
- Farooq Abdullah regarding the Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association Fund scam.
Additionally, he has interrogated Tamil Nadu DMK minister Senthil Balaji, Karnataka Deputy Chief Minister DK Shivakumar, and Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren.
Media reports claim that the ED questioned Rahul Gandhi for over 50 hours in the National Herald case. Even Rahul’s brother-in-law Robert Vadra had been probed for alleged possession of illegal foreign assets.
Understandably, there is furore over his extension, with the opposition slamming the BJP-led Centre. Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) MP Manoj Jha was quoted as saying, “It has been done for ulterior political motives. There is talk in the corridors of power that there will be an attempt to break the INDIA alliance by resorting to lies. We know about this and we want to tell this to the government.”
Samajwadi Party MP Ram Gopal Yadav told media outlets, “There is an attempt to oblige one person and there is a conspiracy to trap opposition leaders in false cases.”
The decision to grant him another extension may be fiercely debate. It will mobilise opinion among the ruling party’s rivals. But it can’t be denied that Mishra has left a template of what a hard-nosed ED officer ought to be.