Allowing the Enforcement Directorate to question Congress leader and former Union Minister P Chidambaram in an alleged money laundering case involving the INX Media, a Delhi court Tuesday said he can be questioned Wednesday in Tihar Jail and, if required, arrested.
Meanwhile, seeking bail in the INX Media case with the CBI for which he is in judicial custody, Chidambaram Tuesday told the Supreme Court that “this is like: an operation is successful but the patient has died”.
Pointing out that all other accused have been granted bail in the case, Chidambaram’s lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi told the bench of Justices R Banumathi, A S Bopanna and Hrishikesh Roy that the Delhi High Court had denied him bail merely on the “apprehension” that he may influence witnesses. He also said there was a “game plan” by the agencies to keep him in custody.
In the Delhi court, Special Judge Ajay Kumar Kuhar told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who appeared for the ED, that the agency’s plea seeking custodial interrogation was premature, and the “application would be considered only if the accused (Chidambaram) is arrested by the DoE under Section 19 of PML Act, 2002”.
Mehta then asked the judge to let the investigating officer question Chidambaram in the Rouse Avenue court and then place him under arrest. He suggested that Chidambaram be questioned in the Ahlmad’s room or in an empty courtroom.
The judge, however, rejected the suggestion and said “it’s not in the dignity of this person that you interrogate and arrest him here in public view”. Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Chidambaram, also protested the suggestion, citing dignity of court proceedings.
The judge said: “The DoE (Directorate of Enforcement) cannot interrogate accused without the permission of the court, he being in custody of this court. The application therefore sought for his production in the court for the purpose of arrest and remand. Therefore, in these circumstances, the DoE can seek the permission to interrogate the accused and then if the grounds specified in section 19 of the PMLA Act are made out, arrest the accused. Accordingly, the application for arrest of accused is being treated as an application for interrogation of accused is allowed accordingly.”
The court said that the court premises was not conducive for interrogation, and gave the investigating officer the option to question Chidambaram in jail. The ED agreed, saying it would question him in Tihar Jail after 8.30 am Wednesday.
In the Supreme Court, Singhvi said Chidambaram satisfied the triple test doctrine evolved by the court. He was cooperating with the investigating agencies and not tampering with evidence, he said. “This witness tampering (allegation) is a spurious last minute attempt to deny me bail,” Singhvi said adding “the whole body of allegations was based on the statements made by Indrani Mukherjea, a person who is accused of the heinous crime of murdering her own daughter.”
He said Chidambaram was not a flight risk: “I was not arrested by them from Timbuktu… I held a press conference, told them I am going home and went to my house in Jor Bagh” from where he was subsequently arrested.
Sibal, also appearing for Chidambaram, said he had been in custody for 55 days but the probe agencies had not bothered to interrogate him during this period. “Whenever he has been called for interrogation, he has gone. So where is the question of his fleeing?… They only want to keep me in jail,” he said.
The hearing remained inconclusive and will resume Wednesday when Tushar Mehta will present arguments on behalf of the CBI.