Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Freezing bank account not akin to seizure of currency; assessee can't ask for de-freezing of bank account under Customs Act

Though 'goods' defined under section 2(22) of Custom  Act include currency, yet, freezing of bank account cannot amount to seizure of currency and hence, assessee couldn’t seek de-freezing of bank account under section 110, if no notice was issued within 6 months of such freezing.
a)  The petitioners were importing high value pesticides/insecticides/ hazardous products in guise of Sodium Bi-Carbonate;
b)  Said transactions were pending investigation. The Department freezed petitioner's bank account;
c)  The petitioner argued that since no show-cause notice was issued against it under section 124 even after expiry of 6 months from freezing of account, it was liable to be de-freezed as per section 110.
The High Court rejected petitioner’s claim with the following observations:
1) If notice required under section 110(2) was not served within 6 months or extended time-limit, goods were liable to be returned;
2) Sections110 and 124 are independent, distinct and exclusive of each other. Even if any seized goods are returnable in terms of section 110, proceedings for confiscation of goods under section 124 may still continue;
3) Section 110(3) deals with seizure of documents or things which in opinion of concerned officer would be relevant to any proceedings under Act;
4) Freezing of bank account was not seizure of any document or thing useful or relevant to any proceedings under the Act; rather freezing of account was only with a view to stop petitioner from withdrawing proceeds of alleged violations under the Act;
5) Though 'goods' as defined under section 2(22) include currency, yet, there is no precedent to show that freezing of bank account would amount to seizure of currency. Since freezing of bank account was not seizure of 'goods' as envisaged under section 110, petitioner was not entitled to de-freezing of bank account unconditionally;
6) Hence, the amount deposited in said bank account after date of freezing account was to be released, subject to furnishing of a bank guarantee in respect of such amount. -  Ravi Crop Science v. Union of India [2014] 41 taxmann.com 69 (Delhi)