In a dramatic turn of events Wednesday night, personnel of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) scaled the boundary walls of the New Delhi residence of senior Congress leader and former Union Minister P Chidambaram and arrested him, in full media glare, in connection with its probe into alleged charges of corruption in the INX Media case.
A team of the Enforcement Directorate, probing alleged money laundering charges, also showed up at Chidambaram’s Jor Bagh residence who was taken away in a CBI vehicle at 9.45 pm. Congress leaders and lawyers Kapil Sibal and Abhishek Manu Singhvi were with Chidambaram when he was placed under arrest.
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The former minister, also a member of the Congress Working Committee, was taken into custody soon after he addressed a press conference at the AICC headquarters on Akbar Road where he claimed innocence.
Flanked by the top leadership of the Congress, he said neither he nor any member of his family had been made an accused in the INX Media case. He said no chargesheet had been filed in the case and the FIR by the CBI did not impute “any wrongdoing” by him. He said he will respect the law even if it is applied with an “unequal hand” by the investigating agencies.
Earlier in the day, 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. Sibal and a battery of lawyers, who were representing him, did not get any respite despite the urgency cited to take up his petition for interim bail.
The CBI and the ED, meanwhile, issued separate lookout notices for Chidambaram after they failed to reach him over the last 24 hours.
Teams of the CBI and ED reached the Congress headquarters as soon as Chidambaram left the venue at 8.25 pm after reading out a prepared statement before the media. He then drove to his Jor Bagh residence followed by the CBI and ED teams. There was high drama at his residence. With the main gates shut, CBI personnel were seen scaling the boundary walls to enter the house amid protests by Congress workers. At the Congress headquarters too, there were some protests.
Addressing the press conference, Chidambaram, flanked by Mallikarjun Kharge, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Ahmed Patel, Kapil Sibal, Salman Khurshid, Abhishek Singhvi, K C Venugopal and Vivek Tankha, said he was neither “hiding from the law” nor “running away from justice.” He said he was with his lawyers through the night and during the day.
“I believe that the foundation of a democracy is liberty. The most precious Article of the Constitution of India is Article 21 that guarantees life and liberty. If I am asked to choose between life and liberty, I shall unhesitatingly choose liberty. Why are the years up to 1947 called the years of freedom struggle? Because, to win freedom, we must struggle. To preserve freedom too, we must struggle.”
“In the last 24 hours, much has happened that has caused concern to some and confusion to many… In the INX Media case, I have not been accused of any offence. Nor is anyone else including any member of my family been accused of any offence. In fact, there is no chargesheet filed by either the CBI or the ED before a competent court. Moreover, the FIR recorded by the CBI does not impute to me any wrongdoing.”
“Yet there is a widespread impression that grave offences have been committed and my son and I have committed those offences. Nothing can be further from the truth. These are lies spread by pathological liars. When I was summoned by the CBI and then the ED to appear for questioning, I naturally sought interim protection against arrest from the competent court. I was granted interim protection… I have enjoyed the interim protection for the last 13 to 15 months.”
With the Delhi High Court dismissing his “pre-arrest bail application” Tuesday, Chidambaram said his lawyers advised him to move Supreme Court. The lawyers, he said, appealed “repeatedly” to the Supreme Court Tuesday evening and Wednesday “to list appeals for hearing urgently and in the meanwhile grant me interim protection.” On his part, he said he and his “other lawyers” worked through the night. “Today, throughout the day, I was with my lawyers following the proceedings in the Supreme Court.”
“I was aghast that I was accused of hiding from the law. On the contrary, I was seeking the protection of the law. I was accused of running away from justice. On the contrary, I was engaged in the pursuit of justice. My lawyers have told me that despite their impassioned pleas, the cases were not listed for hearing today, nor will they be listed tomorrow, but will be listed only on Friday. I bow down to the orders of the Supreme Court.”
“Between now and Friday, I shall walk with a clear conscience and my head held high. I shall respect the law even if it is applied with an unequal hand by the investigating agencies. In the name of freedom, I can only hope and pray that the investigating agencies will also respect the law. In the present circumstances, respect for the law can mean only one thing — await the decision of the Honourable Supreme Court on Friday.”
“Some days ago, when I spoke in Parliament, I had said that every judge in this country will uphold the liberty of a citizen. I had said that the collective conscience and the institutional memory of the court, as a venerable institution, will guide all judges of the country. As much as I believe in liberty, I also believe in the wisdom of our judges. So, until Friday, and beyond, let us hope that the lamp of liberty will shine bright and illuminate the whole country,” he said.
In Chennai, his son Karti called it a political witch-hunt. “Outrageous media leaks are the preferred tactics of the ED. I have nothing to do with INX or the FIPB. All my assets and liabilities are duly declared in statutory and regulatory filings. I have repeated this ad nauseam. I have been raided four times. Appeared for over 20 summons. Each session for a minimum of 10 to 12 hours. Been a ‘guest’ of the CBI for 12 days. There is still no chargesheet for alleged events which apparently took place in 2008 and a FIR in 2017. There is no case,” he said.
The Congress came out in support of Chidambaram, with the party’s former president Rahul Gandhi accusing the government of using the ED and CBI “to character assassinate” his colleague. Party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi claimed that he was being “hunted down”.
“An extremely qualified and respected member of the Rajya Sabha, P Chidambaram has served our nation with loyalty for decades including as Finance Minister and Home Minister. He unhesitatingly speaks truth to power and exposes the failures of this government, but the truth is inconvenient to cowards so he is being shamefully hunted down. We stand by him and will continue to fight for the truth no matter what the consequences are,” Priyanka tweeted.
“Modi’s Govt is using the ED, CBI & sections of a spineless media to character assassinate Mr Chidambaram. I strongly condemn this disgraceful misuse of power,” Rahul tweeted later. Several top leaders, including Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, joined them in attacking the government and expressing solidarity with Chidambaram.