Karti Chidambaram, son of senior Congress leader and former Union Minister P Chidambaram, was today directed by the Supreme Court to appear before the investigating officer at CBI headquarters here on August 23 for questioning in a corruption case. The FIR, lodged by CBI 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 Finance Minister. A bench comprising Chief Justice J S Khehar and Justice D Y Chandrachud allowed Karti to be accompanied by a lawyer at the CBI headquarters during questioning.
It, however, directed that the accompanying lawyer would be sitting in an adjoining room to the place where Karti would be quizzed by CBI investigators. “During the course of hearing, the counsel for respondent number 1 (Karti) states that the respondent is ready and willing to appear before the investigating officer. We, therefore, hereby direct respondent no. 1 to appear before the investigating officer on August 23 at CBI headquarters in New Delhi,” the bench said. It also asked Karti to carry all necessary documents to defend himself against the allegations made by the CBI. The bench gave the probe agency the liberty to question Karti as many times it wanted and posted the CBI’s plea, challenging the Madras High Court order staying the look out circulars (LOCs) issued against him and others, for further hearing on September 1.
The bench has asked both parties to file their respective reports with regard to the investigation and other aspects of the case on the next date of hearing. The hour-long hearing was witnessed by Karti Chidambaram from the visitors’ gallery of the CJI’s courtroom where his parents, senior advocates Nalini Chidambaram and P Chidambaram, were also seen in the court complex. While the mother remained inside the courtroom during the entire hearing, the father remained outside in the corridor. The high-profile hearing began with the arguments of senior advocate Gopal Subramanium, counsel for Karti, who referred to the illustrious family history and said his client has deep roots in the society and was not going to flee. “I have deep roots in the society and my family members are here… I have no interest in any Swiss company,” he said, adding that Karti had appeared before the CBI in 2014 and had said that he has no connection with the FIPB approvals.
To this, the bench said that the 2014 appearance was in relation to the Aircel-Maxis deal and “now we are concerned with another case”. The senior lawyer said that Karti and his father had “separate ways” and the former was being harassed and his reputation being maligned in the name of FIPB approvals which were granted by the Finance Ministry and six senior officials. Subramanium said it has become a fashion of the day to target the relatives of important politicians. “Do you want to say you are so good that you don’t want to appear before CBI,” the bench asked. It also said that it did not want to make an opinion about the merits of the case. “Under no circumstances, we want to make an opinion about the case…the FIR said that you were consulted by INX. We do not know. The FIR says so. “The books of accounts say about the payment with reference to FIPB clearance and you said that you have no connection. Then what is the big deal? Go and tell them (CBI),” the bench observed.
As Subramanium continued to argue on allegations referred to in the FIR, the bench intervened and said he was “stretching” the arguments as the limited point was how the High Court had construed the issuance of LOCs. The CBI said that it only wanted to ensure that Karti did not go out without participating in the probe and it did not want to arrest or detain him, the bench said. The senior lawyer then said that the LOCs were infringing his fundamental right to travel. “You (Karti) are so clean that you will not appear. You are so good that you don’t want appear… now tell us, when will you appear,” the bench asked, adding “We don’t know. We don’t want to touch (facts). Tell us, do you want to appear or you do not want to appear”. On the issue of issuance of the look out circulars, Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the CBI, said that a LOC was a much “softer” option than other statutory remedies “I am not at their mercy. My quashing petition is before the Madras High Court. If they have courage, let them do what they want under the law,” Subramanium said.
“They (CBI) are saying they could have done much more, but they are doing the least,” the bench said. Subramanium then said that Karti was ready to appear before the CBI with some protection like a lawyer may be allowed to accompany him during the investigation. 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 Madras High Court order putting on hold the LOC issued by the Centre against Karti. The CBI had claimed that the FDI proposal of the media house, cleared by Chidambaram, was “fallacious”. 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 on May 16.