The Supreme Court today decided to peruse a confidential report submitted by the CBI on its probe against Karti Chidambaram, son of former Union Minister P Chidambaram, regarding alleged irregularities in FIPB clearance given to INX Media Ltd. The top court said it will examine the documents submitted in a sealed cover by the agency in the open court to allay any apprehension of Karti Chidambaram and others. A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud asked Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta to place the documents before it on November 9. The top court agreed to examine the documents after Mehta, appearing for CBI, said it will be “travesty of justice” if the court does not see the papers and form an opinion. “Does the investigating agency have to plead to the court to look into the evidence before forming any opinion? My insistence is that please have a look before the court forms any opinion,” Mehta said. The CBI FIR, lodged on May 15, had alleged irregularities in Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance to INX Media for receiving overseas funds to the tune of Rs 305 crore in 2007 when Karti’s father was the Union Finance Minister.
At the outset, senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Karti, urged the court to pass any order saying the case with regard to the Look Out Circular (LOC) has been lingering on for over three months now. He said that Karti has to go for a lecture at a UK university on the ‘rule of law in Pakistan’ on November 10, but due to this case, his passport has been impounded. Mehta opposed the arguments, saying it was beyond his understanding as to how important the lecture on “Rule of Law in Pakistan” would be and urged that Karti cannot be allowed to travel abroad pending investigation.
While reading the affidavit filed by Karti, Mehta said the CBI cannot be “so irresponsible” as to incorporate media reports as its evidence. “There are evidence of transaction to INX Media through Indrani Mukherjea and through Peter Mukherjea and Advantage Strategic Consulting Private Limited,” he alleged. Sibal opposed the charge and said the court should not peruse the report as it will enable the judges to form an opinion. “They (CBI) say I will tamper with evidence if I go abroad but now I have only one bank account with State Bank of India left with me. The bank is now saying that I can’t operate this account even. They interrogated me on October 23 and 28 and then they did not said any thing,” Sibal said.
He said if the court looks into the documents submitted by CBI, then it will form an opinion which will be against the principles of natural justice. Mehta said the judges could peruse the report at their residence if they wished before forming an opinion. This was opposed by Sibal who said the court should put the matter for arguments and pass an order. To this, the bench observed that whatever be the apprehension of the parties, CBI will handover the documents and court would see whether Karti can be allowed to travel abroad or what conditions need to be imposed. Sibal again opposed the court’s suggestion and said there were earlier apex court verdicts holding that materials cannot be seen.
“Why can’t we see? We can see the documents to ascertain the facts. You are apprehensive. We will see what could be done,” the bench said and listed the matter for November 9. On October 11, the apex court had said it would first decide whether it was entitled to see the documents which CBI, before taking a call on other issues. Karti had argued that documents cannot be filed by CBI in the apex court in an SLP that has arisen out of an order of the Madras High Court on a writ petition. The agency had earlier claimed that Karti had “tampered” with evidence relating to the case against him during his visits abroad in the months of May, June and July this year.
The top court is hearing CBI’s appeal challenging Madras High Court order staying the government’s LoC against Karti. The CBI had on September 1 told the top court that there were “good, cogent” reasons for issuing the LoC. Earlier, the apex court had said that Karti would not be allowed to leave India without subjecting himself to investigation in the case. The court had then stayed the high court order putting on hold the LoC against Karti. The FIR was registered on May 15 before the special CBI judge here and the registration of the case was followed by searches at the residences and offices of Karti and his friends the very next day.