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

The intricate web of legal intricacies, the concept of retrospective application emerges as a central theme, casting its shadow over the contours of offenses and their repercussions. At the heart of this labyrinth lies the complex realm of money laundering, where the interplay of retrospective effect weaves a tapestry of legal questions within the framework of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 (PMLA Act). This article embarks on a journey to decipher the intricacies of retrospective operation, delving into cases and principles that illuminate this multifaceted landscape.

The Canvas of Money Laundering

At the core of this discourse is the distinct offense of money laundering, meticulously carved out under Section 3 of the PMLA Act. This offense stands as an entity in its own right, tethered to the proceeds of crime that have their genesis in scheduled offenses. However, the concept of retrospectivity injects a layer of complexity into the application of the PMLA Act to offenses that were not categorized as scheduled offenses at the inception of their occurrence.

The landmark case of Joint Director, Enforcement Directorate and Others V. M/s. Obulapuram Mining Company Pvt Ltd.1 presents a critical precedent. The court in this case held that invoking the provisions of the PMLA Act retrospectively was untenable, especially when the offenses in question were not categorized as scheduled offenses under the Act. This ruling underscored the principle that retroactive application should not be employed when the offenses were not classified as scheduled offenses during the time of their commission.

Deciphering the Essence of Money Laundering

The canvas of money laundering transformed significantly with the 2013 amendment to Section 3 of the PMLA Act. This amendment reshaped the interpretation of key phrases like "concealment, possession, acquisition, or use" within the framework of Section 3. The focus shifted towards comprehending these phrases in the context of the money laundering process or activity, which concludes once the illicit funds are laundered and assimilated into the economic fabric. For instance, individuals who concealed or utilized the proceeds of crime would be culpable under the money laundering offense, provided these actions were undertaken.

However, a pivotal revelation emerged - a money laundering offense could only be established if it occurred after the commencement of the PMLA Act. This principle was reaffirmed in the case of Mahanivesh Oils & Foods Private Limited V. Directorate Of Enforcement2, where the court emphasized that for an offense to be actionable under the PMLA Act, it must transpire post its implementation.

Unveiling the Nexus Between Money Laundering and Scheduled Offenses

An intricate interplay exists between money laundering offenses and the scheduled offenses from which they emanate. The case of Anosh Ekka v. State of Jharkhand3 through Directorate of Enforcement underscores this connection. The court emphasized that conviction under Section 4 of the PMLA Act, the provision dealing with the punishment for money laundering offenses, hinges on the establishment of guilt for the scheduled offenses. This delicate interplay emphasizes that to invoke the PMLA Act, a robust link with the scheduled offenses is indispensable, aligning with the legislative intent to address the financial aspects of crime.

Likewise, the pivotal case of Madhu Koneru vs. Director of Enforcement4 brought to light the necessity of evidence connecting the accused with scheduled offenses to warrant prosecution under Sections 3 and 4 of the PMLA Act. This case epitomized that to trigger the application of the PMLA Act, a concrete link with the scheduled offenses was imperative, aligning with the broader purpose of targeting the financial aspects of criminal conduct.

Striking the Equilibrium of Retrospective Enigma

The crux of the matter lies in balancing the scales of justice with the pillars of fairness and legality. The concept of retrospective application grapples with this equilibrium, demanding meticulous contemplation. The overarching principle underscores that applying the PMLA Act to offenses that were not categorized as scheduled offenses during their occurrence can potentially infringe upon the principles of fairness and legality.

As the legal discourse traverses this intricate terrain, one fact remains undeniable: the retrospective operation of the PMLA Act requires precision and judiciousness. It's a facet of the law that demands reverence, for it holds the potential to reshape legal narratives and redefine the boundaries of offenses.

In Conclusion: The Unfolding Saga

The retrospective operation of the PMLA Act presents a puzzle that demands a nuanced and comprehensive approach. The interplay between money laundering offenses, scheduled offenses, and the timeline of enactment creates a rich legal tapestry. The tussle between the quest for justice and the principles of legality is an ongoing saga, where each judgment shapes the evolving panorama of money laundering prevention. As jurisprudence continues to navigate these waters, the call resonates for an equilibrium that upholds justice while safeguarding the integrity of legal principles.


Vijay Pal Dalmia, Advocate

Supreme Court of India & Delhi High Court

Email id:

Mobile No.: +91 9810081079



Twitter: @vpdalmia


1. 2017 (3) KARLJ 179

2. 2016 SCC OnLine Del 475

3. 2013 SCC OnLine Jhar 373

4. MANU / TL / 0393 / 2021

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