The Bombay High Court has given the green signal for the prosecution of international drug smuggler Jitendra Panchal. It also holds that the concept of double jeopardy would not apply in his case and refuses to quash the FIR filed in the case.
A division bench of justices R M S Khandeparkar and Vijaya Kapse-Tahilramani hold that charges for which Panchal was booked in India were not the same for which he was sentenced to jail in the US.
In October 2002, a joint operation was carried out by the Drug Enforcement Agency of the United States, the Narcotic Control Bureau of India and the enforcement agencies in Germany and Austria. The officers of the Detroit Field Office of the DEA seized 565.2 kg of hashish in Newark. The hashish was found hidden in a consignment of pickles of the company named Mahesh Food Products of Mumbai (India) and exported to a company called the House of Spice in the US.
Investigations have revealed that Panchal and his associate Niranjan Shah were involved in an international racket of trafficking drugs to the US and Europe. Panchal was arrested in Vienna, Austria in December 2002 and extradited to the US. Panchal pleaded guilty to the charge of possession of drugs before District Courts, Eastern District of Michigan, and was sentenced to 54 months in prison.
During this time the Indian narcotic control bureau (NCB) arrested Shah and his associates Kishore Joshi and Irfan Gazali for allegedly smuggling drugs. On his release from a US prison, Panchal was deported to India in April 2007, and arrested by the NCB.
Meanwhile, Panchal has challenged his arrest and subsequent remand to custody, claiming that the legal concept of double jeopardy barred his prosecution for the same offence. Panchal has pointed to Article 20(2) of the Constitution of India, which says that no person shall be prosecuted and punished for the same offence more than once. Panchal's lawyers argued that he was being prosecuted for the same incident for which he has already undergone imprisonment in the US.
The court, has however, dismissed this claim and agreed with the NCB contention that though the offence was related to the same incident, the charges are different. In the US, the charge against Panchal was that of conspiracy to possess controlled substances in that country.
The NCB has however charged Panchal and the other accused with the conspiracy to acquire and possess hashish in India, importing hashish from Nepal and exporting it to other countries. "By no stretch of imagination are the charges the same,'' says the HC, adding, "perusal of the provisions of law under which Panchal has been sought to be prosecuted in India would reveal that the ingredients of the said offences are totally different from those of the offence for which he was charged and punished in the US.''