Article by Vijay Pal Dalmia, Advocate, Supreme Court of India and Delhi High Court, Partner & Head of Intellectual Property Laws Division, Vaish Associates Advocates, India

In the intricate labyrinth of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), one term stands as a linchpin for understanding the flow of illicit gains - "proceeds of crime." This term, meticulously defined within the act itself, holds the key to unravelling the complex web of financial malfeasance and criminal activity. This article delves into the contours of "proceeds of crime," deciphering its multifaceted implications and the nuances that have emerged over time.

Deciphering the Definition

The PMLA, in its quest to combat money laundering, leaves no room for ambiguity in defining "proceeds of crime." According to Section 2(u), it encompasses any property that is either directly or indirectly derived or obtained due to criminal activities linked to a scheduled offense. This entails a twofold scenario: the property itself and its value are crucial factors. Additionally, if such ill-gotten gains find their way abroad, the PMLA extends its reach to property equivalent in value, whether held within the country or overseas.

Illuminating the Explanation

The legislative landscape is a dynamic canvas, where interpretations often sway the course of legal understanding. In 2019, the Finance Act introduced an explanation to the definition of "proceeds of crime" under Section 2(u) of the PMLA. This explanation serves as a guiding light, dispelling doubts and clarifying the already intricate concept. It unequivocally states that the ambit of "proceeds of crime" extends beyond property directly linked to the scheduled offense. It includes any property, directly or indirectly derived from any criminal activity related to the scheduled offense. This serves as a clarification of existing definitions, a spotlight on the interconnectedness of criminal activities, and their financial implications.

The Retroactivity Conundrum

The introduction of the explanation raises a pertinent question - does it apply retrospectively or prospectively? While the explanation itself doesn't explicitly specify, its clarificatory nature and the context in which it's introduced suggest a retrospective intent. As it merely clarifies what's already inherent in the definition of "proceeds of crime," the logical inference leans toward retroactivity. The legal precedent, as set by the High Court of Judicature for Rajasthan Bench at Jaipur1, underscores the nature of an explanation within a statute, which aligns with this interpretation.

Unpacking the Scope: "Any Criminal Activity"

The PMLA, in its pursuit of curbing financial wrongdoing, casts a wide net with the term "any criminal activity." While the act doesn't explicitly define this term, its implications are far-reaching. This umbrella term encompasses activities directly or tangentially linked to the scheduled offense. This could span a spectrum of actions, from concealment, possession, acquisition, use, to projecting or claiming untainted property. To illustrate, consider Person A, who acquires tainted funds of Rs. 1 crore through a scheduled offense. If Person A attempts to cleanse this money by investing it in a bank account, any interest accrued on this tainted sum also falls within the purview of "proceeds of crime."

Navigating the Complex Terrain

The term "proceeds of crime" encapsulates a complex interplay of legal and financial dynamics. It serves as the linchpin connecting criminal activities to the financial realm, making it a focal point in the fight against money laundering. The elucidating explanation appended to the definition enhances the clarity of interpretation, removing the veil of ambiguity that might shroud its understanding. The introduction of the explanation echoes the legislature's intent to strengthen the net around those attempting to legitimize their ill-gotten gains.

Conclusion: A Beacon in the Legal Fog

In the symphony of legal intricacies, "proceeds of crime" emerges as a resonating note, harmonizing legislative intent and practical implementation. The PMLA, fortified by this term, strives to deter and apprehend those who seek to benefit from criminal activities. The explanation acts as a guiding beacon, casting light on the labyrinthine pathways of financial wrongdoing. As the legal landscape evolves, the definition of "proceeds of crime" stands as a testament to the lawmakers' commitment to staying ahead in the battle against money laundering, while also upholding the principles of justice and equity.


1. Civil Writ Petition No. 21751/2017, ( ).


Vijay Pal Dalmia, Advocate

Supreme Court of India & Delhi High Court

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