Observing that “allegations against the accused were found serious” and the “CBI has apprehension that because of his status and position, the investigation may be hampered by the accused”, a Delhi special court Thursday sent Congress leader and former Union Minister P Chidambaram to Tihar Jail for 14 days in the INX Media case.
Arrested on August 21 by the CBI which is probing alleged corruption in the case, Chidambaram was remanded in judicial custody till September 19 by Special Judge Ajay Kumar Kuhar after his CBI custody ran out Thursday.
Hours earlier, the Supreme Court had dismissed Chidambaram’s petition challenging the Delhi High Court order that denied him anticipatory bail in a separate money laundering case filed by the Enforcement Directorate in the INX Media matter. The bench said grant of relief at this stage “will hamper the investigation”.
In the special court, Chidambaram’s counsel, senior advocate Kapil Sibal, moved an application, offering to surrender before the court in the ED case. The court issued notice to the ED and set September 12 for arguments.
Sibal later moved an application asking the court to provide security to Chidambaram — he has Z-category cover — in a cell with a cot and western toilet. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for CBI, told the court that adequate safety arrangements will be made during Chidambaram’s stay in judicial custody. He has been allowed to carry his medicines to jail.
Earlier, Mehta sought Chidambaram’s judicial custody, saying the allegations against him were serious in nature, and the accused was powerful enough to tamper with evidence and influence witnesses.
When Sibal argued that the court be shown some evidence that witnesses were being influenced or evidence tampered, Mehta submitted the statement of a witness in the case: “I know that this is not the right stage for this. I am doing this to satisfy the court’s conscience. You can clearly see how this witness can be influenced.”
Seeking Chidambaram’s release, Sibal told the court that “there is no proposition of law in which the prosecuting agency can say that when custody is over, then judicial custody is a must. The judge has to apply his mind to the facts as demonstrated to the court.”
He also spoke about the Letters Rogatory sent to different countries by the investigating agency, and told the court, “they are saying that I (Chidambaram) am so influential that I can influence sovereign governments. An LR is sent to the investigating agency of a particular country and they seek out the information sought. What kind of submission is this? That I am so powerful that I can influence the investigating agencies of other countries?”.
Judge Kuhar, in his order, said: “The allegations against the accused were found serious, therefore he was remanded to police custody. The investigation of the case is still in progress. The CBI has apprehension that because of his status and position, the investigation may be hampered by the accused. It is not a case where the accused can be ‘released’ at the stage of considering his extension of remand as submitted by the counsel for the accused. Now having considered all the facts and circumstances of the case, the nature of investigation, the accused is remanded to judicial custody.”
In the Supreme Court, the bench of Justices R Banumathi and A S Bopanna did not grant relief to Chidambaram in the ED case: “Having regard to the materials said to have been collected by the respondent, Enforcement Directorate, and considering the stage of the investigation, we are of the view that it is not a fit case to grant anticipatory bail.”
With the court dismissing the petition, Chidambaram withdrew another plea challenging the correctness of his arrest.
The bench said that “in a case of money-laundering where it involves many stages of ‘placement’, ‘layering i.e. funds moved to other institutions to conceal origin’ and ‘interrogation i.e. funds used to acquire various asset’, it requires systematic and analysed investigation which would be of great advantage.”
The provision for anticipatory bail, the bench said, should only be invoked in exceptional cases where the case alleged is frivolous or groundless.
“In the case in hand, there are allegations of laundering the proceeds of the crime. The Enforcement Directorate claims to have certain specific inputs from various sources, including overseas banks. Letter rogatory is also said to have been issued and some response have been received by the department. Having regard to the nature of allegations and the stage of the investigation, in our view, the investigating agency has to be given sufficient freedom in the process of investigation,” the bench ruled.
It, however, expressed displeasure at the High Court judge extracting from the note of the agencies in his order denying anticipatory bail.
“The learned Single Judge was not right in extracting the note produced by the Enforcement Directorate/CBI which, in our view, is not a correct approach for consideration of grant/refusal of anticipatory bail. But such incorrect approach of the learned Single Judge, in our view, does not affect the correctness of the conclusion in refusing to grant anticipatory bail to the appellant in view of all other aspects considered herein,” it said.
The ED had urged the court to look at the material it had collected during the probe and handed over to the court in a sealed cover. Senior advocates Kapil Sibal and A M Singhvi, appearing for Chidambaram, had opposed this, saying there was no provision in law which allowed the investigating agency to hand the court case material that had not been put to the accused.
On this, the bench said: “Where the interest of justice requires, the court has the powers, to receive the case diary/materials collected during the investigation”. It then said that in “the present case… we have consciously refrained from opening” it “lest, if we peruse the materials collected by the respondent and make some observations thereon, it might cause prejudice to the appellant and the other co-accused”.
It also turned down Chidambaram’s prayer to summon transcripts of his interrogation to decide if he had been evasive. In May 2017, the CBI had registered an FIR alleging irregularities in the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance granted to the INX Media group for receiving overseas funds of Rs 305 crore in 2007 when Chidambaram was Finance Minister. The ED later lodged a money laundering case in the matter.