The Supreme Court today ordered the withdrawal of the Look Out Circular (LOC) issued against TMC MP Abhishek Banerjee and his wife Rujira in connection with the money laundering cases against them linked to an alleged coal smuggling scam in West Bengal.

The Enforcement Directorate (ED), which the apex court had pulled up at the last hearing for issuing LOC against the high-profile couple, told a bench of Justice S K Kaul and Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia that necessary orders will be issued to facilitate their travel abroad if they inform the anti-money laundering agency a week in advance.

On July 24, the apex court had asked the ED to apprise it about whether an LOC has been issued against the couple, who had travelled abroad with court's permission in the past.

During the hearing today, Additional Solicitor General (ASG) S V Raju, appearing for the ED, said as far as Abhishek Banerjee is concerned, the ED has already relaxed the LOC and allowed him to travel from July 26 to August 20. Raju said Banerjee's wife Rujira has also been allowed to travel abroad several times.

"The problem is this....When somebody goes (abroad), you say we have not done it (issued LOC) and we have given the permission," Justice Kaul observed, adding, "The pendency of the LOC creates a scenario that somebody, somewhere is stopped. It is not done. Your time is wasted and my time is wasted."

"There is an LOC. You recall the LoC, that is all. They will seek permission whenever they have to go. They will intimate you in advance," the bench told Raju.

When the ASG argued that serious allegations have been made against the couple in the alleged coal smuggling scam, the bench observed in a criminal matter, it is the prosecution's burden to prove its case beyond all reasonable doubts.

"The ASG, in usual fairness, states that if the petitioners inform one week in advance before travelling abroad, necessary orders will be issued. In any case, the LOC shall stand withdrawn," the bench said while disposing of the application filed by Abhishek Banerjee and his wife.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the duo, had argued that the TMC MP was scheduled to go abroad on July 26 for medical reasons. Sibal had stated that Abhishek Banerjee and his wife had travelled abroad earlier and returned without causing obstruction in the ongoing probe against them.

The apex court had earlier allowed the ED to interrogate the couple in connection with the alleged scam at its Kolkata office after giving them at least a 24-hour advance notice.

Rujira was allegedly stopped from boarding a UAE-bound flight on June 5 citing a lookout notice issued by the ED that asked her to appear before the agency.

The ED has lodged a case against the couple under the provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 based on a November 2020 FIR registered by the CBI that alleged a multi-crore rupees coal pilferage scam at the Eastern Coalfields Limited mines in the state's Kunustoria and Kajora areas in and around Asansol. The alleged scam involves illegal mining of coal and its transportation.

A local coal smuggling ring leader Anup Majhi alias Lala is alleged to be the prime suspect in the case.

The ED had claimed the TMC MP, a nephew of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, was a beneficiary of funds obtained from this illegal trade. He has denied all charges.

With PTI Inputs