CBI gets Chidambaram’s custody for 4 more days

The case of corruption is linked to government approval of foreign investment in INX Media Private Limited in 2007, when Chidambaram was finance minister in the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.
A Delhi court on Monday extended the custodial interrogation of senior Congress politician P Chidambaram by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) by four more days.(ANI Photo)
A Delhi court on Monday extended the custodial interrogation of senior Congress politician P Chidambaram by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) by four more days.(ANI Photo)
Updated on Jun 22, 2020 09:07 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, New Delhi | ByHT Correspondents

A Delhi court on Monday extended the custodial interrogation of senior Congress politician P Chidambaram by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) by four more days until August 30, hours after the Supreme Court dismissed his appeal against a Delhi high court order quashing his petition seeking protection from arrest in the INX Media case.

The case of corruption is linked to government approval of foreign investment in INX Media Private Limited in 2007, when Chidambaram was finance minister in the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.

Also watch| Chidambaram sent to 4 day CBI custody after arrest in INX media case

 

However, the court extended his protection from arrest until Tuesday on a money laundering complaint lodged in connection with the same case by the Enforcement Directorate (ED).

Special judge Ajay Kumar Kuhar accepted the CBI argument that it needed more time to complete Chidambaram’s interrogation when the latter was produced in court at the expiry of his four-day custody, granted to the agency on August 22.

“The investigation is the prerogative of the investigating officer, which he has to conduct within the framework of law. The reasons for grant of police custody remand have been given in the order dated August 22,” Kuhar said.

“So without going into the facts of the case again and considering the submissions made by the solicitor general and the facts and circumstances of the case, I am of the view that further police custody remand of the accused, P Chidambaram, is justified and accordingly the accused is remanded to further police custody till August 30,” he ruled.

Solicitor general Tushar Mehta and additional solicitor general KN Natrajan, who appeared for the CBI, said sufficient grounds existed for extension of his custodial interrogation as he has to be confronted with a co-accused in the case. The prosecutors placed before the court a file containing email exchanges between the suspects.

We need five days of custody of Chidambaram as the confrontation with co-accused will continue to unearth a larger conspiracy,” Mehta contended.

Earlier in the day, there was bad news for Chidambaram in the Supreme Court. “Since the petitioner has been arrested on August 21 in view of the judgement of the constitution bench of 1980, the SLP {special leave petition} has become infructuous. It has been dismissed,” the court said.

A fresh petition he filed against the trial court’s August 22 order remanding him to CBI’s custody for four days could not be taken up because it was not listed for hearing, as had been ordered by SC on August 23.

On finding that the matter had not been listed in the daily agenda, Sibal approached justice R Banumathi’s court at 10:30 am and mentioned it. The judge informed Sibal that the matter had not been listed because the court registry failed to obtain the requisite orders from the Chief Justice of India (CJI) during the weekend. She asked Sibal to wait for his turn to come.By the time Chidambaram’s case came up at noon, the fresh case file had still not been placed before the court.

The Supreme Court bench comprising justices Banumathi and AS Bopanna said it will continue hearing on Tuesday the petition by Chidambaram challenging the Delhi high court order which had rejected his anticipatory bail plea in the ED money laundering case as well.

Senior advocate and Congress leader Kapil Sibal, appearing for Chidambaram, completed his arguments and said he would file a rejoinder to the ED’s counter-affidavit on Tuesday. Solicitor general Tushar Mehta, appearing for the ED, said he will advance his arguments on Tuesday and the bench posted the matter for hearing at noon.

During the pre-lunch session, Sibal said a fair trial and fair investigation were part of Article 21 of the Constitution and the court must protect the fundamental right to liberty of Chidambaram, 73, a member of the Rajya Sabha. He strongly objected to Mehta handing over some documents in a sealed envelope for perusal by the bench.

“The procedure followed to submit documents in court must pass the test of reasonableness,” he said.

The bench, which had earlier indicated that it would go through the documents during the lunch break, later agreed not to peruse them at this stage in view of Sibal’s objections.

Sibal and Abhishek Singhvi, who also appeared for Chidambaram in the Supreme Court, contested the government’s case that Chidambaram’s custodial interrogation by the ED was required to get to the bottom of a bunch of proxy foreign bank accounts that investigators allege are linked to the senior Congress leader.

Sibal said Chidambaram had been examined thrice by the ED — on December 19, 2018, January 1, 2019 and January 21, 2019 — but questions related to the allegations levelled by the ED against him had not been put to him.

The CBI registered an FIR on May 15, 2017, alleging irregularities in the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance granted to broadcaster INX Media for receiving overseas funds amounting to 305 crore in 2007. The ED lodged a money laundering case against him in 2017.

Sibal said FIPB consisted of six secretaries — top civil servants — of the government, and Chidambaram had only endorsed their approval of the investment as the then finance minister. The ED has alleged the use of shell companies in the matter but no such firm is directly or indirectly connected to Chidambaram, he argued.

He also said that Chidambaram had not been named in the ED’s FIR and no allegations had been levelled against him. Chidambaram headed the ministries of finance and home during the UPA regime.

The CBI, making its case, said it had issued letters of request to overseas authorities seeking information over alleged payments of $5 million and $4.5 million to Chidambaram by the promoters of INX Media. He said that the agency was still waiting for a response from those authorities.

Objecting to such submissions, Sibal told the trial court judge that there was no document to support the allegations of the payments. He said that no document and questions related to the bank accounts had been put to his client during the 26-1/2 hours of questioning in the last four days of CBI custody. He contended that the investigation by the CBI was “clouded.”

He also raised questions on the case diary, stating that the document had not been provided in a proper format to the court as well as the defence. When asked about the case diary, the solicitor general said the book was out of stock, eliciting laughter from the audience.

“We are aghast.,” Sibal said. The solicitor general said the case diary had been paginated but not bound as required.

INX Media co-founders Peter Mukerjea and his wife Indrani Mukerjea have been charged with entering into a criminal conspiracy with Karti Chidambaram, the former minister’s son, to get foreign investment approvals and evade punitive measures for not having the necessary approvals from the FIPB.

In March 2018, Indrani Mukerjea told CBI in a statement that a deal of $1 million was struck between Karti Chidambaram and the Mukerjeas to secure approval from the FIPB in favour of INX Media. Last month, a Delhi court allowed Indrani Mukerjea, who is a prime suspect in the murder of her daughter Sheena Bora, to turn approver in the INX Media case.

Chidambaram and Karti have consistently denied all the allegations and said they were motivated by “political vendetta” by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government.

(PTI contributed to this story)

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Monday, July 04, 2022