Didn’t say to hell with you, Chidambaram lawyer rebuts ED in Supreme Court
The CBI had registered an FIR on May 15, 2017, alleging irregularities in the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance granted to the INX Media group for receiving overseas funds of Rs 305 crore in 2007 during Chidambaram’s tenure as the finance minister.Updated: Aug 27, 2019 20:06 IST
Former finance minister P Chidambaram’s legal team, which is contesting the high court’s rejection of pre-arrest bail to the Congress leader, told the Supreme Court on Tuesday that the investigating agencies didn’t have any piercing questions for the 73-year-old politician to ask but just wanted him in their custody to humiliate him.
Senior lawyer Abhishek Singhvi, who has also moved an application to requisition a transcript of Chidambaram’s previous interrogation reports, said a request for anticipatory bail should be tested against three parameters.
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“Non-cooperation, flight risk and tampering of evidence…. None of these factors is present in this case,” Singhvi said, underscoring that Chidambaram could have tampered with the evidence when he was a minister in the UPA government till 2014.
“If I (Chidambaram) wanted to tamper with evidence, I could have done it between 2007 and 2017, I was also in power till 2014,” Singhvi added.
The CBI had registered an FIR on May 15, 2017, alleging irregularities in the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance granted to the INX Media group for receiving overseas funds of Rs 305 crore in 2007 during Chidambaram’s tenure as the finance minister. The ED later also filed a money laundering case against him.
The former minister, also a Rajya Sabha member, wasn’t a flight risk and had been cooperating with the agencies when he was summoned for questioning.
“Only point of custody here is humiliation, humiliation humiliation. All letters of humiliation in capitals,” Singhvi told a bench of justices R Banumathi and AS Bopanna.
The senior lawyer, who is also Chidambaram’s colleague in the Congress party, has also challenged the Enforcement Directorate case against the politician on grounds that the investigating agency had invoked a 2009 amendment to the money laundering law against him though the offence was alleged to have taken place much earlier.
Criminal law, unlike civil law, does not apply with retrospective effect.
Singhvi underscored that during his questioning, Chidambaram was being repeatedly asked the same question again and again: if he had any foreign bank accounts. The ED claims that it has discovered many bank accounts abroad that are linked to Chidambaram and his family, a charge the Chidambaram family has firmly dismissed.
The former minister was arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation last week from his Jor Bagh house amid high drama after the high court rejected his request for anticipatory bail in two cases being probed by the CBI and the ED.
In the high court order, the judge had also described Chidambaram as a kingpin of the scandal, appeared to go by the accusation that he had been evasive in his replies to questions asked of him by the agencies.
Singhvi argued that it was incorrect to describe his responses to investigators as evasive.
“I haven’t said to hell with you… I will not answer your questions,” Singhvi said, asserting that Chidambaram hadn’t been evasive. “Their case is that he is not giving answers while we say questions were not put to him,” Chidambaram’s lawyer said.
“So long as I am available, I can give whatever answer I like and not what ED wants,” he added.
Abhishek Singhvi also questioned the high court judge’s choice of words, underlining that the judge had, more than once, described the accusation against Chidambaram as grave.
That usage, Singhvi argued, “had a subjective element” to the word. “What is grave for one may be less grave for another, so the best and only test of gravity of offence is the period of sentence prescribed by the legislature,” Singhvi argued.
Singhvi argued that the offence that Chidambaram is alleged to have committed was punishable with a jail term of seven years or less. In the criminal procedure code, he said, only offences that carry a punishment of seven years or more are considered grave.