P Chidambaram gets protection from arrest in ED case but will spend weekend in CBI custody
The Supreme Court will take both ED and CBI cases against P Chidambaram for hearing on Monday.
Former Union minister P Chidambaram will be spending the weekend in CBI custody as the Supreme Court on Friday posted the hearing in both INX media cases -- by Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Enforcement Directorate (ED) -- for Monday. The top court, however, granted the Congress leader interim protection from arrest in ED case till the next date of hearing.
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The former finance and home minister is in jail after Delhi High Court on Tuesday rejected his pre-arrest bail in connection with a money laundering case in INX media case. He was arreted by the CBI after a 90-minute drama and was produced in a special court on Thursday that gave the Central Bureau of Investigation the custody of Chidambaram till August 26.
A bench comprising justices R Banumathi and A S Bopanna posted both the matters for hearing on Monday, August 26. The hearing witnessed exchange of words between prosecution counsel and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta and senior advocate and Chidambaram’s party colleagues Kapil Sibal and A M Singhvi. Mehta vehemently opposed the order granting protection from arrest to Chidambaram in the money laundering case registered by the ED.
Arguing the case on Friday, Chidambaram’s lawyer Kapil Sibal said, “The petition raises the issue of his fundamental right to liberty. High court gave the order after seven months at 3:20 pm on Wednesday and said we could move an application asking for time. At 4 pm the application is rejected. We come to the SC, request for an early hearing. We are told to move the senior most judge the next day .. we prepare the petition overnight.. a notice is pasted at 12 in the night asking me (Chidambaram) to appear before CBI for two hours.. there is no provision for such a notice.”
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Solicitor General Tushar Mehta in his arguments said that there was no question of anticipatory bail as Chidambaram was in custody. “The court here is dealing with an offence against the finance minister who granted FIBP approval to a company called INX media, controlled by Peter and Indrani mukherjea.. CBI has a statement of indrani ...that is the predicate offence. ED proceedings on money laundering started after this predicate offence was made out.” Mehta argued.
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Stating that Chidambaram has been evasive and not answering questions, Mehta urged the court to examine the evidence adduced so far . ‘The court must satisfy it’s conscience before extending a protective benefit to Chidambaram,” Mehta said arguing against any interim protection to the Congress leader in ED case.
The INX Media case relates to alleged irregularities in Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance given to the media group for foreign investment to the tune of Rs 305 crore in 2007, when Chidambaram was finance minister. CBI registered a first information report on May 15, 2017, alleging irregularities in the manner the clearance had been awarded. The Enforcement Directorate (ED) filed a money laundering case a year later.
The agency alleges that the former directors of INX Media, Indrani Mukerjea and Peter Mukerjea, made a payment of $5 million and $450,000 to Chidambaram in 2007-08 and 2008-09, allegedly for giving the FIPB approval. Peter Mukerjea and Indrani Mukerjea are behind bars in connection with the murder of Sheena Bora, Indrani’s daughter from another marriage.
Chidambaram was arrested late on Wednesday night after the Delhi High Court on Tuesday rejected his pre-arrest bail. His legal team desperately sought to have the Supreme Court hear the matter on Tuesday and Wednesday but failed. Chidambaram then made an appearance at the Congress HQ and made a statement. He was arrested by CBI shortly after. The Enforcement Directorate is yet to arrest him.
People familiar with the matter said Singhvi and Sibal want to thwart the possibility of Chidambaram being picked up by ED even when he is granted bail in the CBI case.
While some legal experts say Chidambaram’s SLP has now become infructuous as he has been taken into custody by CBI, Congress leaders point out that the SLP was filed much before the arrest took place and not otherwise. So, there is still a possibility to argue the petition, they added. The usual norm for the SC has been to send the petitioners seeking bail to an appropriate court.
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A special court had rejected arguments by his lawyers, who sought his bail by stressing that the personal liberty of their client was under threat. The CBI sought Chidambaram’s five-day custodial interrogation, saying that the senior Congress leader did not cooperate in the probe and that there was a need to unearth a “larger conspiracy”.
“Considering the facts and circumstances as brought to the notice of the court, I am of the view that police custody remand of the accused, P Chidambaram, is justified and accordingly the accused is remanded to police custody till August 26,” judge Ajay Kumar Kuhar ruled.
He allowed Chidambaram’s family members and lawyers to meet him for half-an-hour every day during this period.
Sibal, who appeared for Chidambaram in the special CBI court, said all other accused in the case, including Karti, have already been granted bail. Singhvi, who also argued for Chidambaram, said the agency could not seek his remand on the ground of “evasive replies”.
In the special court, solicitor general (SG) Tushar Mehta, who appeared for CBI, said the agency was not extorting a confession from Chidambaram. Mehta said Chidambaram’s custodial interrogation was necessary to unearth the “quid pro quo and larger conspiracy” in a serious case.
The CBI’s arguments were based on three key points: Chidambaram did not cooperate with the investigation and gave evasive replies on many crucial questions; his replies were in contradiction to the stand taken by other co-accused and witnesses; and the probe revealed that Karti received payments from several companies, which received FIPB approvals during Chidambaram’s tenure as finance minister.
Chidambaram’s arrest triggered a war of words between the government and the principal opposition party.
Addressing a press conference in New Delhi on Thursday, Congress’s chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said: “Over the last two days India witnessed the broad daylight murder of democracy and the rule of law by a government hell-bent upon using the CBI and ED as personal revenge-seeking departments for the party in power.”
He said the “vindictive, selective and malicious manner” in which Chidambaram was “persecuted and prosecuted is nothing short of a brazen personal and political vendetta”.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the Centre hit back at the Congress for defending Chidambaram. Senior BJP leader and information and broadcasting minister Prakash Javadekar said the law is now catching up with the Congress. “It’s a case of massive corruption. It’s a scam.”