With the Supreme Court set to hear P Chidambaram’s plea for anticipatory bail in the money laundering case being probed by the Enforcement Directorate Monday, the agency is likely to tell the court that the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) has “given specific inputs” that the former finance minister and his co-conspirators “had accounts/valuable properties in Argentina, Austria, British Virgin Island, France, Greece, Malaysia, Monaco, Philippines, Singapore, South Africa, Spain and Sri Lanka”, it is learnt.
On Monday, after The Indian Express report was published, former Union Minister P Chidambaram’s lawyers said they will file a “detailed rejoinder” in the Supreme Court if the Enforcement Directorate files its affidavit in which it is learnt to have stated that the Congress leader and “his co-conspirators” owned assets and had bank accounts in multiple countries.
A statement issued by his Advocate Arshdeep Singh Khurana denied the claims of his client owning assets or bank accounts abroad. The statement said “I am instructed by my client to state that he does not own any property or has any bank account abroad” and that “all his assets are duly reflected in all statutory filings”. The counsel said “we have been instructed to file a detailed rejoinder in the event the affidavit is filed”.
The statement by Chidambaram’s counsel also said the affidavit “seems to have been leaked with a view to sensationalise the matter and prejudice my client in the hearing scheduled before the Hon’ble Supreme Court…” and “seems to be an attempt to conduct trial by media”.
On August 23, the ED had told the apex court, which took up his plea for pre-arrest bail in the case, which is an offshoot of the INX-Media case being probed by CBI, that persons with “close” links to Chidambaram had created many shell companies in India and foreign countries to launder money.
The court has also asked the ED to file its response by Monday. In its response, the agency will also intimate the court that it had found that “two individuals… acted as agents of” Chidambaram “and interacted/liasoned with the parties applying for FIPB (Foreign Investment Promotion Board) approval including INX-Media as well as collected the proceeds of crime on behalf of/ at the behest of the petitioner-accused”.
It will say that the shell had been created so as to make it difficult for law enforcement agencies to track the money trail, and that only custodial interrogation would “complete” the probe and lead to “the truth being unravelled”.
Pressing for Chidambaram’s arrest and custodial interrogation, the agency will say that “it is also found that the petitioner and his co-conspirators are not only trying to tamper/destruct the evidence, but are influencing the witnesses”.
Chidambaram has said that neither he nor any member of his family have been made an accused in the INX Media case. Just before his arrest on Wednesday night, he said no chargesheet had been filed in the case, and the FIR by the CBI did not impute “any wrongdoing” by him.
The ED, it is learnt, will argue that Chidambaram “and/or his co-conspirators at his behest, have changed the shareholding pattern of shell companies” and “have made changes in the Directors is such shell companies during investigation so as to distance himself and his family from the money already laundered and invested”.
The agency claims to have found that the bank account of one of the shell companies is closed, and another account has been opened by a co-conspirator. It claims it also has “information” about the accused co-conspirators “having influenced the witnesses and attempts are made at falsification and/or tampering of the documents”. According to the ED, “17 benami foreign bank accounts” have been found “through which money is laundered and are invested in several properties out of which 10 expensive properties situated outside India have been inventories so far”.
The ED will also tell the court that Chidambaram was “completely evasive and non-cooperative” when he came for questioning on December 19, 2018 and January 7 and January 21 this year.