The Supreme Court Friday granted interim protection from arrest to Congress leader P Chidambaram in an alleged money laundering case filed by the Enforcement Directorate. The case is an offshoot of the INX Media case in which the former Union Minister has already been arrested by the CBI and remanded in its custody till August 26.
The bench of Justices R Banumathi and A S Bopanna, after hearing Solicitor General Tushar Mehta who appeared for the ED, and senior advocates Kapil Sibal and Abhishek Manu Singhvi for Chidambaram, said “having regard to the fact that the petitioner was also granted interim protection on 25.07.2018 and that the co-accused were also granted bail by the High Court, the petitioner is granted interim protection, in so far as the Enforcement Directorate case is concerned… till the next date of hearing”.
Two days ago, Chidambaram’s lawyers had approached the Supreme Court for interim protection from arrest in the CBI case after the Delhi High Court rejected his anticipatory bail plea. But urgent hearing was not granted and the matter was left for Friday. Hours later, the CBI arrested Chidambaram.
On Friday, Sibal claimed that parts of the High Court judgment were a “cut and paste” from a note submitted by the prosecution to the judge “after the arguments had been completed”, but Mehta called it a “false statement”. The Solicitor General referred to “shell companies” which he alleged were “floated by persons connected to the petitioner (Chidambaram) to launder money”.
In the CBI matter, he said, Chidambaram had already been arrested and, therefore, his plea had become infructuous. Sibal objected: “My right under Article 21 cannot be frustrated. I had not been arrested when I came to the (Supreme) Court.”
Intervening, Justice Banumathi said “right or wrong, some order has been passed and he has been arrested. That is an order of a competent court”. The bench said it will hear the CBI matter on August 26, the day the remand ends.
Mehta urged the court to list the ED matter too on August 26, so that both could be taken up together, but the bench did not agree. “No, we want to hear,” Justice Banumathi said.
Sibal said though the ED was supposed to file a reply in the matter before the High Court, the agency did not do it and the matter was disposed without the ED reply. He said after the arguments were over in HC, the prosecution handed over a note to the judge.
Mehta objected: “Not after the arguments were over. Don’t make false statements.”
“I am saying on oath,” Sibal said. “False statements can also be made on oath,” Mehta countered. “The judgement is copy-paste from the note. We didn’t see the note, and so we could not present our arguments on it,” Sibal said, adding that “paragraphs 12 to 20” of the HC judgment “are a cut and paste of that note”.
“What is this practice? You don’t file affidavit. You don’t place anything on record. You file a note and it’s cut and pasted. That becomes ground for denying me anticipatory bail? It’s final conviction… Can this ever happen?” Sibal asked.
Singhvi too was critical of the HC order and asked “can a judge hearing a pre-arrest matter say what is said in paragraph 21?” His objection was to the HC saying “pre-arrest is not meant for high-profile economic offenders” and “time has come to recommend to Parliament to suitably amend the law to restrict provisions of pre-arrest bail and make it inapplicable to economic offenders of high-profile cases like the instant one”.
After reading it out, Singhvi said “perhaps the judge didn’t know that except in one state, Uttar Pradesh, anticipatory bail was available in all states”. He said the HC judge “is denying me bail in this case by referring to an unconnected case — the Aircel Maxis case” and “it shows how the mind is working to deny me relief”.
Mehta denied the charges and said the HC had pronounced its decision after duly perusing the case diary. He said the “CBI has a statement of Indrani Mukerjea” who, with her husband Peter Mukerjea, was controlling INX Media. He claimed “that she and her husband went to meet the respondent herein (Chidambaram)” to discuss the Foreign Direct Investment proposal and he told them to take care of his son’s interests.
It was after this, he said, that the ED started proceedings under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act. He said he would not venture into making allegations against this or that judge, adding “we did file the note”.
Mehta said the evidence is in the form of digital documents, and there are email exchanges. “The money… has travelled through money laundering… We will have to confront the respondent with the emails,” he said.
As the court proceeded to dictate its order, Mehta urged the bench to look at the evidence which he had in a sealed cover and only then pass the order. But the court said it will look at the documents only when it takes up the matter on August 26, and did not want to keep the papers with itself.
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