A Delhi special court Thursday remanded Congress leader and former Union Minister P Chidambaram in CBI custody till August 26, observing that the allegations against him in the INX Media case are “serious in nature” for which a “detailed and in-depth investigation is required”.
Granting his custody to the CBI, special CBI judge Ajay Kumar Kuhar directed that Chidambaram be allowed to meet his family members and lawyers for half-an-hour everyday, and that he be medically examined every 48 hours.
Probing alleged charges of corruption in the case, the CBI arrested Chidambaram Wednesday night amid high drama — its personnel scaled the boundary wall of his New Delhi home to reach him — after he addressed the press at the Congress headquarters and headed home.
Earlier Wednesday, Chidambaram failed to get immediate protection from arrest from the Supreme Court which decided to hear Friday his petition seeking stay of the Delhi High Court order that had dismissed his anticipatory bail plea.
The CBI had registered an FIR on May 15, 2017 alleging irregularities in FIPB clearance to INX Media in 2007 during Chidambaram’s tenure as Finance Minister. Thereafter, the ED too opened a probe into alleged money laundering in the case.
In the court room Thursday, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the CBI, said Chidambaram’s custodial interrogation was required to confront him with documents and others accused in the case, and also to establish the money trail.
“Allegations are that Ms Indrani Mukerjea and Peter Mukerjea, in connection with FIPB approval granted to their company M/s INX Media (P) Ltd and M/s INX News (P) Ltd, made payment to the tune of 5 million US dollar and 4,50,000 US dollar to the accused in the year 2007-2008 and 2008-09, for settling down the issues relating to violation of FEMA by their companies,” Mehta told the court.
Chidambaram, who was allowed to depose despite objections from the Solicitor General, said he was only called on June 6, 2018 for questioning, and that none of the questions were related to the claim of payments of USD 5 million or USD 4,50,000. Rejecting the allegation that he had been evasive in his replies, he told the court to call for the transcript.
“They have only sought information about my bank accounts and whether I have accounts in a foreign country. To which I have replied that I do not have any bank account in a foreign country and only have accounts in India. They also asked: Does your son have a foreign account? I have replied: Yes, my son has his account in a foreign bank. I was never evasive in my replies,” he said.
Senior advocates Kapil Sibal, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Dayan Krishnan and Vivek Tankha, appearing for Chidambaram, opposed the the CBI remand application and said co-accused Karti Chidambaram had been granted regular bail by Delhi High Court and there was no interference by the Supreme Court, and that (chartered accountant) S Bhaskararaman was on anticipatory bail which had also not been challenged before the higher court.
“Other accused, Peter and Indrani Mukerjea, are on default bail,” Sibal said, adding that “also six Secretaries of the Government of India are also accused in the case, but none of them have been arrested till date. One of them later became the RBI Governor.”
“This is a case of documentary evidence. The FIR in the case was filed after 10 years and he (Chidambaram) never skipped interrogation and has not been evasive,” Sibal said. He also pointed out that Chidambaram, after his arrest Wednesday, was never questioned and “it was only at 11 am today, they asked twelve questions, out of which six were answered earlier also”.
Sibal and Singhvi said “the entire case is based on the case diary and a statement by Indrani Mukerjea… the turning of Indrani into an approver does not add new facts to the case”.
The special judge, however, said “the allegations made against the accused are serious in nature and there cannot be dispute with the facts that a detailed and in-depth investigation is required in the present case”.
“The allegations of payment being made to the accused in the year 2007-08 and 2008-09 are specific and categorical. The trail of this money, if so paid, is to be ascertained. No doubt it is a case to a large extent based on documentary evidence but those documents need to be traced and their value and their worth for the purpose of the investigation in this case is to be ascertained,” he said in his order.
Earlier, Karti Chidambaram told reporters that “this case is not against me or my father, it is against a party with which we are associated”.