Kapil Sibal said the allegation is that Chidambaram, who was then finance minister, signed the approval which was given by FIPB which consisted of six secretaries of the central government.
Former Union finance minister P Chidambaram told the Supreme Court Monday that his reputation is being “destroyed” on a daily basis by the probe agencies in the INX Media cases even as the Enforcement Directorate asserted that it needed to interrogate him in custody. Chidamabaram’s counsel told the top court that he is sought by ED to be “vicariously involved” in the INX Media money laundering case as he is the father of Karti Chidambaram, who according to the probe agencies tried to influence the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) members.
A bench of Justices R Banumathi and A S Bopanna extended till Tuesday the protection from arrest granted to Chidambaram in the money laundering case as the hearing remained inconclusive in the matter. Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Chidambaram, said: “The moment you arrest someone, the public perception is that he is guilty. It destroys a man. My reputation is being destroyed on a daily basis by the CBI and Enforcement Directorate (ED) and I have no remedy to protect myself”. He said the ED case is that FIPB approval was granted to INX media in 2007-08 for Rs 4.62 crore but the money which came was Rs 305 crore for “downstream investment” into an entity called ‘INX News’.
Sibal said the allegation is that Chidambaram, who was then finance minister, signed the approval which was given by FIPB which consisted of six secretaries of the central government. He said it is being alleged that to wriggle out of the punitive action from authorities, INX Media approached Karti, who had exercised his influence on the FIPB board members and other public servants, to get the approval.
“P Chidambaram is sought to be vicariously involved in the INX Media money laundering case as he is the father of Karti Chidambaram. No case is made out against him,” he said. None of the FIPB secretaries said that Karti had approached them or exercised his influence, he added. Dealing with ED’s allegations, Sibal said it claims that shell companies were set up and ‘Benami’ properties acquired in several countries ranging from Argentina to Sri Lanka from the money of P Chidambaram.
“They had examined me thrice after the registration of case in 2017 and they have once questioned me for 26 hours. During this time, they never put any questions to me and what they asked was do you have a bank account? Do you have a twitter account? The court should summon the transcript to satisfy itself whether I was evasive or not during the questioning,” he said.
He further said that ED has contended about a will prepared by persons managing some shell companies in the name of Chidambaram’s granddaughter but the fact is that the said will was already in the public domain since 2016. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for ED, intervened and said the court should see a confidential document in sealed cover and satisfy its conscience whether his custodial interrogation was needed or not.
To this, the bench said that it would peruse the documents during the lunch break. Sibal vehemently opposed the submission of Mehta and said, “There is no case made out and there is no connection with the INX Media. This attempt to handover the documents in a sealed cover is deprecated and should not be allowed as it would prejudice him and sensationalise the proceedings”.
Mehta said the charge sheet has not been filed yet and during the pre-charge sheet stage, court can and should peruse the materials and evidences, which the ED have collected in the case. Sibal said, “I have no knowledge what these documents are and this procedure of handing over the documents is unknown in law and would seriously prejudice my case and my fundamental rights”.
“I ask the Enforcement Directorate, tell me one property where P Chidambaram is directly involved. If you prove it, I will just now withdraw my petition,” he said and blamed the probe agency for leaking documents to media, just before the hearing in the case. He said ED must disclose when did they discovered these properties, shell companies and bank accounts as these have nothing to do with the INX media case.
Sibal said all the said properties are now provisionally attached under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) and the ED has all the information about these properties. Dealing with the status of accused in the case, Sibal said that Karti has been granted bail, his chartered accountant S Bhaskaran also got bail and as far as six secretaries are concerned, no sanction has been granted by the Centre to prosecute them.
“The way CBI has arrested me has to be fair and just. The offence of this nature is all documentary. My all transactions are through bank accounts, all properties are purchased through proper documentations. Now, for what purpose does the ED wants my police remand. What do they want to elicit from me by my custody,” he said. Sibal also claimed that the High Court judge has not applied his mind in rejecting the anticipatory bail plea and has relied mostly on a note submitted by the ED.
The hearing remained inconclusive and will continue on Tuesday. The CBI had registered an FIR on May 15, 2017, alleging irregularities in the FIPB clearances granted to the INX Media group for receiving overseas funds of Rs 305 crore in 2007 during Chidambaram’s tenure as finance minister. Thereafter, the ED lodged a money-laundering case in 2017.