INX Media case: Delhi HC rejects plea, P Chidambaram goes to Supreme Court

Published: August 21, 2019 6:28:05 AM

In the INX Media case, a Delhi court on July 4 allowed Indrani Mukerjea, the former head of the media company, to turn approver in the CBI case, which pertains to alleged financial irregularities in clearances granted when Chidambaram was finance minister.

INX Media case, Delhi HC, P Chidambaram, Supreme Court,CBI, ED, india newsHis son Karti Chidambaram is also an accused in the case and was arrested by the CBI on February 28 last year. He was granted bail later by the High Court.

By Pritam Pal Singh

IN A major setback to Congress leader P Chidambaram, the Delhi High Court on Tuesday rejected his anticipatory bail application in two cases of alleged corruption and money laundering linked to INX Media. Calling it a “classic case of money laundering”, the court said that “facts… prima facie reveal” that Chidambaram is the “kingpin, that is, the key conspirator in the case”. With the high court also rejecting the former finance minister’s plea for interim protection from arrest, his legal team, led by senior advocate Kapil Sibal, approached the Registrar (Judicial) of the Supreme Court for an urgent hearing. It was asked to mention the matter before the appropriate bench of the apex court on Wednesday morning — a formal plea is yet to be filed.

Sibal told reporters that he was told to mention the matter before the “senior-most” judge at 10.30 am. In the Delhi High Court, Justice Sunil Gaur observed that “custodial interrogation” of Chidambaram “is required for an effective investigation” and that the “offenders must be exposed, no matter what their status is”. The judge vacated his July 2018 order granting interim protection from arrest in both the cases, which are being investigated by the CBI and ED.

The high court said: “…it cannot be forgotten that the petitioner was Finance Minister at the relevant time and he had given FDI clearance to the INX media group for receiving overseas funds to the tune of `305 crore”. It declined senior advocate Dayan Krishnan’s request that Chidambaram be given protection from arrest for another two-three days, saying he was being protected over the last one-and-half years.

In its 24-page order, the high court said that “simply because he is a sitting Member of Parliament would not justify grant of pre-arrest bail to the petitioner (Chidambaram) in the sensitive case”. It also observed that the “law enforcing agencies cannot be made ineffective by putting legal obstacles of offences in question”.

“Economic crimes of such mammoth scale are craftily planned and executed. Grant of bail in cases like the instant one will send a wrong message to the society,” Justice Gaur said. “In this case, in view of the enormous material placed on record in respect of distinguished entities, various transactions, etc., this court unhesitatingly opines that bail plea is not acceptable,” he said.

The court was of the view that “it is preposterous to say that the prosecution of the petitioner is baseless, politically motivated and act of vendetta”, as it is a “classic case of money laundering”. While dealing with the Congress leader’s contention that he was cooperating in the investigation, the court concluded that denial of pre-arrest bail is based on two factors: gravity of offence and evasive replies given to questions put to him while he was under protective cover extended by the court.

“The court is of prima facie opinion that it is not a fit case for grant of pre-arrest bail to the petitioner. The facts persuaded me to decline pre-arrest bail to the petitioner while refraining to comment on merits of the case,” it said.

On May 31 last year, Chidambaram had moved the court seeking interim protection fearing arrest in the INX Media case. Subsequently, he was given protection from arrest. Chidambaram is also under investigation in another case — alleged corruption in the Aircel-Maxis deal — but was granted protection from arrest by a trial court in the case lodged by CBI and ED.

In the INX Media case, a Delhi court on July 4 allowed Indrani Mukerjea, the former head of the media company, to turn approver in the CBI case, which pertains to alleged financial irregularities in clearances granted when Chidambaram was finance minister.

His son Karti Chidambaram is also an accused in the case and was arrested by the CBI on February 28 last year. He was granted bail later by the High Court.

In his plea before the High Court, Chidambaram had said that the ED had not provided him a copy of the FIR. “He came to know about registration of the FIR from various summons received by his son from the ED,” the plea said. It claimed that during the investigations for over a year, no summons has been issued to him, and that there was no allegation of him evading the process of law or fleeing from the process of law or interfering with the probe. “There is not even a slightest whisper about his tampering with any evidence or hampering/impeding the process of investigation,” it said.

The CBI had earlier told the court that Chidambaram was required for custodial interrogation in the INX Media case. On May 15, 2017, the CBI registered an FIR, alleging irregularities in the Foreign Investment Promotion Board’s (FIPB) clearance for the media group to receive overseas funds of Rs 305 crore in 2007 during Chidambaram’s tenure as finance minister in the UPA government. Thereafter, the ED lodged a money laundering case last year.

After the high court’s order, Sibal and Chidambaram were joined by senior advocates Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Salman Khurshid and Dayan Krishnan. Sibal said he was yet to get a copy of the high court order. In the Supreme Court, the matter will be mentioned before the next available most-senior judge since Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and the second-most senior judge Justice SA Bobde are on the Constitution bench hearing the Ayodhya case.

(With Ananthakrishnan G)

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