A Delhi court Tuesday extended the CBI custody of Karti Chidambaram, son of former Union Minister P Chidambaram, until March 9 after the agency said it needed to question him further because “new substantial evidence” had been found in the INX Media case.
Earlier in the day, the Supreme Court declined to give Karti any interim protection from arrest in an alleged money laundering case being probed by the Enforcement Directorate.
Agreeing to take up the matter next on March 8, the bench of Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud clarified that “our present order shall have no impact on any proceedings pending against the petitioner in any court”.
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The CBI, which produced Karti before special judge Sunil Rana after his five-day custody ran out, said an extension was needed to further question Karti.
Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for CBI, told the court that Karti was taken to Byculla Jail in Mumbai to confront him with co-accused Indrani Mukerjea, former promoter of INX Media.
“CBI was able to gather some information though the accused remained evasive even while answering routine questions and did not cooperate in the investigation… Statement of Indrani Mukerjea is not the only piece of evidence, there are new substantial evidence found against the accused,” he said.
“A witness has been approached and evidences are being destroyed… We are making concrete substantial progress,” Mehta said.
In May 2017, the CBI filed an FIR naming, among others, Karti and INX Media for alleged irregularities in clearance from the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) to the media group for receiving overseas funds in 2007 when P Chidambaram was Union Finance Minister.
Senior advocate Abhishek M Singhvi, who was leading Karti’s defence, said that in its remand application, the CBI had not disclosed any new ground for seeking further custody. “CBI had ample time, opportunity to extract whatever information they wanted to gather out of him,” he said.
Countering CBI claims that his client was being evasive and had not been cooperating, Singhvi said, “Cooperation does not mean that the accused should answer as per the whims of the investigating agency. It is the right of the accused to give answers to the questions put to him as per his choice and the same cannot be termed as non-cooperation.”
He said that remand of the accused should be granted in cases of “real necessity” and the court should “discourage” the tendency of police to take remand to “extort” confession.
But Mehta said names of a few more companies had surfaced Monday and, therefore, further custody was required to confront the accused.
After hearing both sides, judge Rana said that further police custody of Karti was “necessary”: “Normally police custody is not lightly granted, but looking to the facts and circumstances of the case and seriousness of offence and on the request of the investigating agency to enable it to collect material evidence upon interrogation of the accused, by placing him in police custody, such request can be granted… If police remand is refused, certainly the right of the prosecution is taken away and to that extent it affects the right of the prosecution partly.”
Arguments on Karti’s bail application, which was also moved Tuesday, will take place on March 9.
In the Supreme Court, senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Karti, contended that the ED had initiated money laundering proceedings without registering an FIR.
The ED, he said, “lacks the power to investigate under PMLA in the absence of a scheduled criminal offence and proceeds of crime being established by the police investigating agency (in this case, the CBI).”
Sibal asked the bench to grant Karti interim protection from arrest. “I am already in police custody… Are the long arms of the law so short that it cannot protect us,” he said, adding that he was only seeking protection from arrest as and when Karti is out of CBI custody and only till the Supreme Court hears the matter next.
He referred to a news report that Karti had transferred some money to a “neta” and said the neta was his father P Chidambaram. The father had loaned some money to his son which the latter had returned in cheques, he said.
“Loan from father to son is money laundering… This is the way people are going to be treated in this country… father gives loan to son and it becomes action under PMLA,” Sibal said, taking a swipe at ED.
ASG Mehta opposed grant of any interim relief, saying “it will have psychological bearing on the proceedings”. He said there was no need for issuing a notice over that. But the CJI reminded him “you cannot take that power away from us”.
The CJI said the bench was only concerned about the legal question raised by Sibal on the ED going ahead with PMLA proceedings without an FIR.