The Supreme Court on Friday asked Karti Chidambaram, the son of Congress leader and former finance minister P Chidambaram, to appear before an investigating officer at the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) headquarters in New Delhi on August 23 for questioning in a corruption case registered against him. A bench, headed by Chief Justice JS Khehar, directed Karti to carry with him “all the necessary documents in his possession” required for his defence in the case. He was also given permission to be accompanied by an advocate who will sit in a room adjoining the one in which he will be questioned by the CBI officer. Karti is being questioned in connection with a case involving alleged kickbacks paid by media house INX Media for obtaining clearance from the Foreign Investment Promotion Board for receiving overseas funds.
CBI has alleged that Karti received kickbacks amounting to Rs 3.5 crore from INX media in exchange for allowing them to raise foreign investment. While INX Media, which was then run by Peter Mukherjea and his wife Indrani Mukherjea, had approval for foreign investment worth Rs 4.62 crore, it had managed to raise around Rs 305 crore in 2007 through “influence in the finance ministry.” At that time P Chidambaram was the finance minister, according to the CBI. The apex court brushed aside Karti’s allegation that he was being harassed in the name of FIPB approval and that the real target was his father.
“Do you want to say you are so good that you don’t want to appear before CBI?” SC asked Karti’s senior counsel Gopal Subramanium, who argued that “there is no unwillingness on his part to appear and that has been demonstrated earlier.” While trying to satisfy the court that it is fit case to quash the look out circular issued against Karti, Subramanium said that it had become the fashion of the day to target relatives of important politicians.
“We are not interested on satisfying ourselves with the merits of the case against you. That’s not our job. That’s the job of the investigating officer. Give all your story to them and walk away,” Chief Justice Khehar observed, adding that “we don’t want to go into any merits. We just have to write a line that may fix you… but we do not want to do it.” To this Subramanium said, “I (Karti) am ready to appear today itself. But I need protection. A lawyer within hearing distance.” The CJI said that whether or not the lookout circular would continue to operate against him would depend on the result of the investigation.
He further said that the apex court will review on September 1 Karti’s plea for cancelling the Look Out Circular (LOC) issued against him. Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for CBI, also handed over to the court a status report of the ongoing probe in a sealed cover. The law officer submitted that the “investigation is at a very, very initial stage and there is material substantiating the charges in the FIR” against Karti and some others in the case. He further said that the status of LOC will be reviewed every month.
Earlier this week, it had stayed a Madras High Court order of August 10 which put on hold the implementation of LOC issued by the Bureau of Immigration against the businessman.“…you cannot, as of now, leave the country till you participate in the investigation. That’s all,” CJI Khehar had said. Karti was scheduled to fly out on August 16. The HC had stayed the LOC issued against Karti and four others, holding that they were prima facie “unwarranted”.
The CBI had registered the FIR against Karti on May 15 and had issued notice on June 15 asking Karti to appear before the investigating officer on June 29. The investigative agency had then on June 16 issued the LOC. The LOCs were also issued against the three directors of Advantage Strategic Consulting C B N Reddy, Ravi Visvanathan, Mohanan Rajesh, and S Bhaskararaman. It is this company which had received the kickbacks on behalf of Karti.