SC reserves order on P Chidambaram bail plea after ED says he’s ‘too powerful’
The Supreme Court on Thursday reserved its order on P Chidambaram’s bail plea in the INX Media money laundering case as the Enforcement Directorate (ED) argued that the former Union minister shouldn’t get bail because he wielded “substantial control over crucial witnesses, who are afraid to testify against him”.
Solicitor general Tushar Mehta, who appeared for the ED, said one witness refused to even come face-to-face with Chidambaram, 74, “because he is too powerful”. “Two other witnesses did not even turn up. It shows the fear which he evokes,” Mehta said.
Mehta, the Centre’s second senior-most law officer, disputed the correctness of the Delhi high court’s finding that Chidambaram will not influence the witnesses. The high court on November 15 denied Chidambaram bail despite such a finding. Mehta called the finding “factually incorrect” as he pleaded against releasing Chidambaram, who has been in custody for 100 days.
The cases against Chidambaram pertain to alleged irregularities in the Foreign Investment Promotion Board’s clearance granted to the INX Media group for receiving overseas funds of Rs 307 crore in 2007 when he was the Union finance minister.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) registered an FIR against Chidambaram in 2017 for alleged offences including under the Prevention of Corruption Act. The ED lodged a separate case against him under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) in 2018.
The CBI arrested Chidambaram on August 21 before the Supreme Court granted him bail on October 22. The ED arrested him in the alleged money laundering on October 16. A three-judge Supreme Court bench comprising Justices R Banumathi, AS Bopanna and Hrishikesh Roy heard Chidambaram’s appeal against the high court’s denial of his bail on November 15.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, who along with Abhishek Singhvi appeared for Chidambaram, on Wednesday questioned the rationale behind the high court denying bail.
On Chidambaram’s arguments that he was not involved in any alleged wrongdoing in this case, Mehta said that shell companies had been allegedly used to park bribes collected on the former minister’s behalf. Before the court wound up, Sibal asked it to look into evidence that ED produced to back up its allegations.