Former finance minister P Chidambaram is “playing the victim card” to prevent the ED from arresting him in the money laundering case related to INX Media and there is no witch-hunt, the probe agency said on Wednesday, alleging money laundering in this matter is going on even now.
In its submissions before the apex court, the Enforcement Directorate(ED) also said it has received “specific inputs and specific details” from foreign countries and banks about properties abroad, house number, companies and persons who own them, a day after Chidambaram dared the ED to prove he had bank accounts and assets abroad as claimed by the agency.
Asserting that the case is a “serious case of money laundering”, the ED said it has collected “cogent material” warranting custodial interrogation of the senior Congress leader, who is currently in the custody of the Central Bureau of Investigation(CBI) in a related corruption case.
The agency told a bench of Justices R Banumathi and A S Bopanna, which extended till Thursday the interim protection from arrest granted to Chidambaram in the ED case, that there is no “witch-hunt” and that money laundering is a “well crafted” and well thought of offence.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the ED, said they cannot share “sensitive material” collected during the probe with Chidambaram at this stage.
“We will put it to accused during custodial interrogation. We do not arrest an accused to have a cup of tea with him,” Mehta said.
“A ghost is sought to be created by playing the victim card,” he added.
“This is not a witch-hunt as alleged by them. We have material to show that it is a serious case of money laundering. We have collected cogent materials in the case,” Mehta said during the arguments which will continue on Thursday.
Referring to the arguments advanced by Chidambaram’s counsel on Tuesday that the ED wanted to humiliate him by arresting him, Mehta said, “A victim card is sought to be played. They are saying humiliation. It is not. It is prevention, prevention and prevention with capital P. I am serious about this”.
He said they are dealing with an “intelligent person” since a “stupid man” cannot commit laundering of layers and layers of money and this offence is not committed at the heat of moment.
“It is a well crafted and well thought of offence, meaning thereby it become very difficult to unravel how money is laundered,” he said while urging the court to look into the materials collected during the probe.
Mehta claimed that money laundering is “going on” in the case and a very notable aspect of such an offence is that the evidence vanishes within minutes a charge sheet is filed in the court.
“As on date of registration of ECIR (in May 2017), which is an FIR, and as we are investigating and arguing this case today, money laundering is going on and it is a scheduled offence,” he said.
“We are requesting the court not to prevent us from exercising our right to arrest an accused as per statutory framework,” he said, adding that the ED has attached properties situated abroad and letters rogatory have been issued to several countries in the case.
Mehta further said: “Money laundering is a separate and stand alone offence and person using proceed of crime and using laundered money can equally be held guilty”.
Referring to provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), Mehta said it provides that material collected during the probe is sent to adjudicating authority in a sealed cover.
He said material which ED receives from foreign countries during investigation is “official records and it cannot be fabricated”.
The Solicitor General said there has to be “reasons to believe”, which would be recorded in writing, for arresting an accused for the offence of money laundering and it has to based on the material collected during the investigation.
“Information is received from the source, from other countries and from banks. We cannot share it with the accused unless charge sheet is filed,” he said, adding, “Materials are in my (ED) possession. We cannot use them arbitrarily and they are sacrosanct”.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, representing Chidambaram, said they never argued that they wanted access to the material collected by the ED.
“We have only said that you (ED) should put it (materials) to the accused and question him on it,” he said, adding, “Without confronting the accused with this, they cannot put the material in the court in a sealed cover”.
The apex court is hearing a plea filed by Chidambaram who has challenged the August 20 verdict of the Delhi High Court denying him anticipatory bail in the INX Media corruption and money laundering cases lodged by the CBI and the ED respectively.
The CBI had lodged an FIR on May 15, 2017, alleging irregularities in Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance granted to INX Media group for receiving overseas funds of Rs 305 crore in 2007 during Chidambaram’s tenure as finance minister. Thereafter, ED lodged a money laundering case.