CBI arrests Karti Chidambaram in INX Media case, Congress says vendetta
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Wednesday arrested Karti Chidambaram for allegedly helping INX Media in scuttling punitive action by the finance ministry during the tenure of his father P Chidambaram as Union finance minister.
The arrest triggered a political battle, with Congress terming it a “vendetta” and the BJP insisting that “law is taking its course”.
The 46-year-old was produced before metropolitan magistrate Sumeet Anand, who remanded Karti to a day’s CBI custody for interrogation, though the agency had asked for 15-day custody. The magistrate asked the agency to apply again before the regular CBI judge, who was on leave.
When he was brought to the Patiala House court complex, Karti said: “It is absolutely a political vendetta. I will be vindicated.” In the court, too, his lawyer and senior Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi took the same line and said the basis for his client’s arrest were “bizarre” and “fake”.
The CBI has alleged that INX Media, then owned by Indrani and Peter Mukerjea, received ₹305 crore from offshore entities by way of Foreign Direct Investment without an approval from the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB), which has now been disbanded.
The CBI’s FIR states that when the income-tax department launched a probe into the alleged violation, the Mukerjeas sought help from Karti to get the punitive action against them by the finance ministry scuttled. The CBI alleged that Karti’s companies got Rs 3.5 crore from INX for services rendered.
Asked why the CBI was arresting Karti almost nine months after the registration of FIR in the case in May, 2017, the agency’s counsel VK Sharma told the court: “On February 17, an accused in the case recorded a statement in front of the magistrate stating that Karti Chidamabaram asked for $1million in foreign currency to clear the FIPB case.”
A CBI official familiar with the developments said that the counsel was referring to Indrani Mukerjea, who was questioned by the agency in the first week of February. She then recorded the statement before a magistrate under Section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code, said the officer who asked not to be named.
An officer in the Enforcement Directorate (ED), which is probing the money laundering angle in the case, said that Indrani had recorded another statement with the agency in which certain references were made about Karti and his father P Chidambaram.
Though HT was shown the statement, it could not independently verify its authenticity. P Chidambaram was not immediately available for comments.
The CBI counsel said in court that Karti did not cooperate with the agency in the probe and that he was travelling abroad too frequently. “The accused has not cooperated in the investigation. The accused has been frequently visiting abroad. There are many things which we cannot disclose in the open court,” Sharma said, making the case for a 15-day remand.
He also argued that Karti appeared before the agency for questioning only after a Supreme Court order. Rebutting the CBI claim, Karti’s lawyer Singhvi told the court that his client cooperated with the investigation and had reported to the CBI whenever summoned.
“One of the interrogations lasted for 22 hours. They (CBI) had no questions left to ask me after 22 hours,” said Singhvi while defending Karti.
On the charge of Karti travelling abroad frequently, Singhvi said: “I (his client) have gone abroad but I have come back also…” He added that Karti was not a “Hindustan leaver” like others but a “Hindustan returner”.
Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad defended the CBI action, saying the government had nothing to do with the agency’s actions: “The law is taking its course. The law must take its course. The CBI will explain all the details. We do not wish to interfere. There is no interference of the government.”
Congress spokesman Randeep Surjewala said Karti’s arrest was a “diversionary tactic” by the government to “hide its scams”.