Chidambaram called kingpin of offence that wasn’t a crime in 2007, SC told
Former finance minister P Chidambaram’s legal team on Tuesday kept up its attacks on the Enforcement Directorate, the federal investigating agency that has told it intends to arrest him in the INX Media case. Senior lawyer Abhishek Singhvi, who is representing Chidambaram along with Kapil Sibal, told the Supreme Court on Tuesday that the Enforcement Directorate had slipped up by charging the former minister for an alleged action in 2007-2008 under provisions of the money laundering law that were notified as an offence only in 2009.
“The Sections charged in the FIR were declared offences only in June 2009 through notification of amendment of the Prevention of Money laundering Act, one year after the alleged acts took place,” Singhvi, who is also a senior Congress leader, told a bench led by Justice R Banumathi.
A person is being “painted as a kingpin” of an alleged offence which did not exist as an offence at the time it was committed, said Singhvi, a reference to the Delhi High Court order that rejected Chidambaram’s request for pre-arrest bail. In this order that has been assailed by Chidambaram’s team, the judge had termed the former minister the kingpin of the scandal.
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The Enforcement Directorate accuses Chidambaram and his aides of creating “layers of money laundering web in a manner which is sufficient to make it difficult for law enforcement agencies to track the money trail of proceeds of crime. The case is linked to alleged irregularities in Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance given to the INX Media group for foreign investment to the tune of Rs 305 crore in 2007 when Chidambaram was the finance minister.
CBI registered a first information report on May 15, 2017, alleging irregularities in the manner the clearance had been awarded. ED filed a money-laundering case later.
Singhvi argued that this was wrong since the offences invoked by the Enforcement Directorate in its complaint weren’t part of the money laundering law when the crime is alleged to have taken place.
Chidambaram’s team also filed an application to ask the judges to order the investigating agencies to produce the transcript of Chidambaram’s questioning by the Enforcement Directorate in December 2018 and January 2019.
The agency cannot randomly place documents in the court and “behind the back” to seek Chidambaram’s custody, Kapil Sibal argued.
Questioning the merits of the high court order on pre-arrest bail, Singhvi underscored that the judge had rejected the bail on the ground that the Congress leader had been evasive in his response and the gravity of the offence.
The judge, Singhvi said, had a distorted idea of a suspect being evasive. A person being questioned by the agencies is “not obliged to give the answers the agencies want to hear”, he said, adding that it was sufficient if a person gives an answer to the questions put to him.