The Supreme Court on Thursday transferred from the Delhi High Court to itself all the cases related to the Enforcement Directorate’s power to arrest an accused under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), including the INX Media case involving Karti Chidambaram, the son of former finance minister P Chidambaram. However, it extended the protection from possible arrest by ED granted to Karti by the Delhi HC earlier in the day till March 26. “We feel this (transfer of cases) is essential in view of several HCs giving conflicting views on interpretation of Section 19 of PMLA,” which relates to ED’s power to arrest an accused,” a bench headed by chief justice Dipak Misra said. “There is some kind of confusion in the high courts. The Delhi HC has referred it (issue pertaining to ED’s power to arrest) to its larger bench but it will not be binding for other courts,” the bench said. Karti is in jail in connection with the INX Media corruption case lodged by the CBI. The FIR had alleged irregularities in the FIPB clearance to INX Media for receiving overseas funds to the tune of Rs 305 crore in 2007 when his father was the Union finance minister. Karti was arrested on February 28 at the Chennai airport on his return from the UK. Just hours after his arrest, he was sent to CBI custody by a special court and then to judicial custody till March 24.
Additional solicitor general Tushar Mehta, appearing for ED and the CBI, submitted that the petition filed by Karti for protection of fundamental rights was merely an “attempt to get anticipatory bail” and this was “an abuse of the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction.” During the hearing, Mehta gave sequence of events in the cases including the issues pending before the HC. He said the HC had on March 9 granted relief to Karti in ED’s case while hearing his plea under Article 226.
He said such direction for no coercive action against Karti could be misused by the PNB bank loan case accused and the promoter of the defunct Kingfisher Airlines. “Look at the HC order which tells us to file an affidavit that he is guilty of the offence. It is troubling us. We will not be able to do anything. Even if he gets bail (in the CBI case), the ED can’t touch him,” he said. He also said that on February 19 itself , a division bench of the HC had made a reference to a larger bench on questions pertaining to arrest by ED, the need to supply the grounds of arrest to an accused and whether the offence was cognisable or non-cognisable under Section 45 of the money launderng law.