Granting anticipatory bail to Congress leader and former Union Minister P Chidambaram and his son Karti in the Aircel-Maxis case filed by the CBI and Enforcement Directorate, a Delhi special court, while noting that the allegations against them were “not of a grave magnitude”, came down heavily on the probe agencies Thursday for the “unexplained delay in investigation” and “unwarranted discrimination” between two sets of accused.
Special Judge O P Saini, in his order, said “the entire evidence relating to the commission of offence is documentary in nature and is not liable to be tampered by the applicants/accused”.
Comparing the allegations faced by the Chidambarams with that against DMK leader and former Union Minister Dayanidhi Maran and others in the same case, judge Saini said “the allegations against the applicants/accused are also not of a grave magnitude as the amount of bribe/ laundered money is only Rs 1,13,61,125 which is paltry in comparison to the allegations against Dayanidhi Maran and others, where the bribe/laundered amount was Rs 749 crore, but he (Maran) was not arrested.”
“An investigating agency should not discriminate between two similarly situated accused, as this is against the rule of law. It may be noted that unwarranted discrimination in the treatment given to different accused in the same case violates the basic norm of our Constitution that the state instrumentalities should always operate in a just, fair and reasonable manner,” he said.
Directing the Chidambarams to join the probe, the court asked them to furnish a bond of Rs 1 lakh each with surety. They have been directed not to contact, threaten or influence any witness or tamper with any evidence. They have also been told not to leave the country without prior permission of the court.
Senior lawyers appearing for the Chidambarams told the court that both have been interrogated several times by the ED and are no longer required for any other purpose.
Granting bail, the court said “the entire evidence relating to the commission of offence is documentary in nature and is not liable to be tampered by the applicants/accused”. It said that since the Chidambarams are Members of Parliament, there is no apparent possibility of them fleeing from justice.
“Considering the distance of time between commission of alleged crime and filing of instant applications, unexplained delay in investigation, there being no possibility of the applicants/accused tampering with evidence or threatening any witness or fleeing from justice and there being no possibility of the also of the applicants/accused committing a similar crime again… I am satisfied that it is a fit case for grant of benefit of anticipatory bail,” judge Saini said.
The court also noted that the ED had filed its complaint on June 13, 2018 and a supplementary complaint was filed on October 25, 2018. The matter is listed for consideration of cognizance but the ED, instead of arguing on the point of cognizance, has been seeking date after date since the filing of the complaint.
“This conduct of the ED speaks for itself and needs no further elaboration. The investigation is even otherwise highly belated as almost entire material was in possession of the investigating agency since the very beginning,” the court said.
Chidambaram was Union Finance Minister when Maxis acquired stake in Aircel. The agencies alleged he played a role in getting Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) approval for the deal. The Aircel-Maxis deal, the agencies said, was worth over Rs 3,500 crore and should have been referred to the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) since the Finance Minister had authority to clear FDI approvals through FIPB only up to Rs 600 crore.
The CBI and ED also alleged that Advantage Strategic Consulting Pvt Ltd (ASCPL), a company “indirectly controlled” by Karti, received a consultancy fee of Rs 26 lakh from Aircel Televentures. The Chidambarams argued that the agencies had no locus standi to investigate them in the case since all the named accused in the case had been discharged.
But the CBI and ED argued that only the accused had been discharged, that the FIR still stood since it had not been quashed. The agencies not only challenged the lower court’s decision discharging the accused but also informed the competent court that they were probing the role of Chidambarams in connection with the FIPB approval granted in the case.
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