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INX Media: Chidambaram gets relief from Supreme Court in Enforcement Directorate case

Congress leader P. Chidambaram.   | Photo Credit: Prashant Waydande

The Supreme Court on Friday protected former Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram from arrest by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) till August 26, the next date of hearing.

The ED is investigating charges of money laundering against him in connection with the INX Media case.

“He already had the benefit of interim bail in ED matter. He was also questioned in this case. He will continue to get protection,” Justice R. Banumathi, leading a Bench comprising Justice A.S. Bopanna, observed.

Also read: Timeline of events in INX Media case

The interim protection was granted despite repeated exhortations from Solicitor General Tushar Mehta to the Bench that “Your Lordships' conscience should be satisfied before giving him any protection”. Mr. Mehta even voiced apprehensions whether the interim relief would be “misused” in the remand proceedings due on Monday in the CBI court against Mr. Chidambaram. 

The court refused to take a sealed envelope proffered by Mr. Mehta, appearing for the CBI and the ED, which he said contained crucial evidence against Mr. Chidambaram.

 

The Bench was hearing two separate appeals filed by Mr. Chidambaram on August 20, within hours after the Delhi High Court refused him anticipatory bail. However, the petitions failed to get listed on August 21 for hearing in the apex court. Mr. Chidambaram was arrested by the CBI from his Jor Bagh residence the same evening. He is on a five-day remand till August 26 with the CBI.

On Friday, the Bench led by Justice Banumathi deferred hearing Mr. Chidambaram's appeal against the CBI to August 26 - the date on which his remand ends. The ED appeal was also listed along with the CBI one.

The apex court indicated that it would, on Monday, comprehensively hear arguments both on the legality of the Delhi High Court's refusal to grant anticipatory bail and the circumstances leading to the arrest on August 21.

At the outset of the hearing, Mr. Mehta said Mr. Chidambaram was already under arrest and there was no question of granting any anticipatory bail now.

Picking on this very point, senior advocate Kapil Sibal explained the events leading to Mr. Chidambaram's arrest.

He said his client, despite repeated attempts, could not get his appeals listed in the Supreme Court. “I moved the Supreme Court on time. I had intimated the CBI. I did not get a chance to be heard by the Supreme Court... I have a right to be heard. All I wanted was to be heard that day...” Mr. Sibal submitted.

He said his client did not attempt to “run away”. He had appeared in public and gave a statement to the Press after the court did not list his appeals.

“I reached home as I had not slept the whole night. I was arrested from there... Now they are saying ‘we have arrested you, you cannot be heard’. My right to life, liberty and dignity under Article 21 cannot be cut down like this,” Mr. Sibal argued.

“Cut and paste” job: Sibal 

He alleged that the High Court judgment was a “cut and paste” job of a note handed over by Mr. Mehta after the conclusion of arguments in the anticipatory bail and after the judgment was reserved.

Mr. Mehta objected strongly, accusing Mr. Sibal of making false statements in court. “The note was not given after the arguments... Is that the best case you have?” Mr. Mehta lashed out at Mr. Sibal in the crowded court room.

Mr. Sibal retorted, “I am making the statement under oath. You reply to it.” The High Court judgment and denial of bail was based entirely on the note. “”The High Court judgment is verbatim of what is in the note. Comma for comma, full stop for full stop. Everything is a copy. So, the note became the basis of denying him bail. There was no affidavit filed,” he argued.

Mr. Sibal said the particular paragraphs “copied” from the note concerned allegations against Karti Chidambaram and not his father.

At this point, senior advocate A.M. Singhvi intervened to point out that the High Court judge even went to the extent of recommending to Parliament that anticipatory bail should be abolished for high-profile economic offenders. “Does this mean fundamental rights of life and liberty change according to the profiles of citizens,” he asked the court.

Mr. Mehta began his counter arguments, saying “we do not have the luxury to make allegations against judges”. The investigating agencies had made enough recoveries necessitating custodial interrogation of Mr. Chidambaram. The CBI had a statement from INX Media promoter Indrani Mukherjea, in jail for murder, against Mr. Chidambaram, he said.

“The evidence is in the form of digital documents. There were email exchanges. Corruption money has travelled through money laundering. We have to confront him [Chidambaram]. We know that the illegitimate money would never be deposited in his account. So we have found that shell companies were created overseas by persons close to him,” Mr. Mehta submitted.

He said the probe agencies have traced the money trail. “There are 10 immovable properties abroad. There are 17 bank accounts in other countries. With the strength of the people behind us, we can confront him [Chidambaram]. We have got to know that the persons behind the shell companies have executed Wills in favour of his granddaughter. But this has been destroyed. We have to confront him about all this,” he submitted.

Mr. Mehta said Section 19 of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act gives the ED power to arrest, provided the reasons for the arrest were good and duly recorded. “We seek custodial interrogation because there are certain people, by the strength of their influence and mental faculties, who will never divulge if they remain under the protection of anticipatory bail,” he submitted.

Mr. Mehta further reasoned that Mr. Chidambaram was already on remand and there was no need for the court to give him protection from arrest till Monday. “We cannot anyway arrest him till Monday,” he submitted.


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Printable version | Sep 28, 2021 12:09:38 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/inx-media-sc-grants-interim-protection-to-chidambaram-in-ed-case-no-relief-in-cbi-matter/article29230879.ece

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