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Wednesday, Dec 11, 2019

P Chidambaram freed after 106 days in jail

Chidambaram, 74, was greeted by Congress party supporters and his son and Lok Sabha member Karti Chidambaram when he stepped out of jail. He said he did not want to comment on the case.

india Updated: Dec 04, 2019 23:46 IST
Murali Krishnan
Murali Krishnan
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Former Finanace Minister P Chidambaram is seen at his residence after he was granted bail by Supreme Court today in the INX Media money laundering case, at Jor Bagh, in New Delhi on December 4, 2019.
Former Finanace Minister P Chidambaram is seen at his residence after he was granted bail by Supreme Court today in the INX Media money laundering case, at Jor Bagh, in New Delhi on December 4, 2019.(Sanchit Khanna/HT PHOTO)
         

Former Union minister P Chidambaram walked out of Tihar jail after getting bail from the Supreme Court in connection with the INX Media money-laundering case on Wednesday,which turned into an occasion for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress to square off anew over his arrest and incarceration.

Chidambaram, 74, was greeted by Congress party supporters and his son and Lok Sabha member Karti Chidambaram when he stepped out of jail. He said he did not want to comment on the case.

“I cannot comment on the case. I will obey the honourable Supreme Court’s order and not speak about the case. But the fact is, after 106 days of pre-trial incarceration, not a single charge has been framed against me as we speak to you now – not one charge has been framed against me.” In response to a question, which was not clear, he said: “I will speak all about it tomorrow.”

Watch | ‘Unwarranted 106 days’ says Karti as P Chidambaram walks out of Tihar jail

 

Chidambaram, a Rajya Sabha member, was arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on August 21 for alleged irregularities in the grant of Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance to INX Media to receive overseas funds to the tune of ₹307 crore in 2007, when the Congress politician was finance minister in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.

“Phew. At last after 106 days,” tweeted Chidambaram’s son, Karti Chidambaram, after the verdict.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi hit out at the government. “Mr P Chidambaram’s 106 day incarceration was vengeful and vindictive. I’m glad that the SC has granted him bail. I’m confident that he will be able to prove his innocence in a fair trial,” he tweeted.

Union minister Nitin Gadkari rejected the allegation of vendetta politics, saying evidence existed against Chidambaram. The minister also reminded the Congress about cases filed against BJP leaders when it was in power. “On the other hand when Chidambaram ji was home minister during Congress rule, he filed false cases against me, he also filed false cases against [Prime Minister Narendra ] Modi ji and [home minister] Amit Shah ji. Later, we all were proved innocent,” ANI quoted Gadkari as saying.

A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court headed by justice R Banumathi granted bail to Chidambaram, citing his age, the two bouts of illness he suffered during his time in prison and noting that he had been put on antibiotics and advised to take steroids. The court ruled that in such circumstances, Chidambaram’s availability for further investigation, interrogation and trial will not be jeopardised by granting him bail.

The court concluded that Chidambaram was not a flight risk and that there was no possibility of him tampering with evidence or influencing witnesses. In effect, he passed the so-called triple test required for grant of bail.

The bench directed Chidambaram not to leave the country without prior permission. The bench also ordered him to furnish a personal bond of ₹2 lakh as well as two sureties of the same amount.

The top court restrained Chidambaram from giving any media interviews or making any statements on the case. It said that “grant of bail is a rule and refusal is an exception” but also observed that economic offences were grave in nature. The court added that its bail order would not have any bearing on other accused in the case and Chidambaram would have to join further investigations if asked to.

Chidambaram approached the apex court after the Delhi high court on November 15 denied him bail. He received bail in the CBI case of corruption on October 22, but before that he had already been arrested by the ED in connection with the money laundering case.

The apex court frowned on the Delhi high court’s observations on the merits of the case in what should have only been a hearing on bail. The Supreme Court did agree with the Delhi high court that an economic crime could be a “grave offence”, but added that the decision on bail must be made on a case-by-case basis. One of the former finance minister’s key arguments was that the charges against him were not “grave” because they were not linked to terror or child abuse, and nor was he a habitual offender.

CBI registered a First Information Report against Chidambaram in 2017 under the Prevention of Corruption Act in connection with the government clearance granted to INX Media group for receiving overseas investment. The ED lodged the separate case against him under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act in 2018.

ED argued against Chidambaram’s bail petition last week saying he should not get it because he wielded “substantial control over crucial witnesses, who are afraid to testify against him”.

Solicitor general Tushar Mehta, who appeared for ED, told the Supreme Court last week that one witness refused to even come face-to-face with Chidambaram “because he is too powerful”. Chidambaram’s lawyers countered Mehta’s submissions and said that there was neither any evidence linking the Congress leader directly or indirectly with the alleged offence nor any material to show that he had influenced witnesses or tampered with any evidence.

The top court said that it was initially not inclined to open the sealed cover material that the ED had placed before it on the case against Chidambaram. It added that since the high court had perused the material, it was imperative for the top court to go through the documents.

The three-judge bench directed the apex court’s registry to return the sealed cover material to the ED after pronouncing the bail verdict. It underlined that its order would not be construed to be a finding on the merits of the case and added that the alleged complicity of Chidambaram in the case would be examined during the trial.

Chidambaram’s lawyer and Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi called the Supreme Court order granting his client bail “excellent light after a rather long tunnel”. Singhvi said that the bail order is “balanced”, “nuanced” and “comprehensive”. He added that it was an order in favour of human rights and balanced jurisprudence.

Congress MP Shashi Tharoor said that “justice delayed is justice denied” and that the bail should have been granted much earlier.

In a tweet, BJP national spokesperson Sambit Patra said that the Congress’s response was a “classic case” of the party celebrating corruption. He added that finally Chidambaram, too, joins the long list of “OOBC (Out On Bail Club)” leaders in the Congress.

Chidambaram’s son Karti, who was waiting outside the jail to receive his father along with scores of supporters, said he was elated. “It has been a long wait. I am very grateful that the Supreme Court has given him bail. I am very grateful to entire top Congress leadership, including Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra who have supported him through all this,” he told reporters.

Karti told HT that his father would attend the Rajya Sabha on Thursday.