Congress leader P Chidambaram continues to face the threat of arrest after the former finance minister failed to get an urgent hearing from the Supreme Court on Wednesday. The Supreme Court has now decided to hear on Friday his petition seeking a stay on the Delhi High Court order dismissing his anticipatory bail petitions in the INX Media case.
In a dramatic press appearance in the evening, former finance minister claimed that the FIR lodged against him does not accuse him of any wrongdoing. “If I’m asked to choose between life and liberty I shall unhesitantly choose liberty. Between now and Friday, I will walk with a clear conscience and my head held high,” he said while addressing the media.
Earlier in the day, Chidambaram’s petition was first mentioned by Kapil Sibal before a bench comprising Justices N V Ramana, M Shantanagoudar and Ajay Rastogi, which sent it for being placed before the CJI for his consideration to accord it an urgent hearing.
While rejecting his bail application in two cases of alleged corruption and money laundering, the Delhi High Court called it a “classic case of money laundering”. “Facts…prima facie reveal that Chidambaram is the kingpin, i.e., the key conspirator in the case,” the Delhi HC had said.
What has happened so far?
* In a setback to Chidambaram, Delhi High Court Tuesday rejected his plea for an anticipatory bail in two cases of alleged corruption and money laundering linked to INX Media. Justice Sunil Gaur, who is scheduled to retire Friday, vacated his July 2018 order granting interim protection from arrest in both the cases.
* Chidambaram’s legal team led by Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal moved the apex court for urgent hearing. It was asked to mention the matter before the appropriate bench Wednesday morning.
* Later, officers from the CBI and ED, which are investigating the cases, reached Chidambaram’s Jor Bagh residence in Delhi. However, on failing to find him at his residence, the CBI issued a notice to Chidambaram asking him to appear before the investigation officer “within two hours”.
* On Wednesday morning, Sibal along with a team of lawyers, including Salman Khurshid, Vivek Tankha and Indira Jaising, filed a Special Leave Petition (SLP) in the top court seeking interim relief against the HC order. “The matter should be heard. I (Chidambaram) should not be arrested in the meanwhile,” the petition stated.
* Chidambaram’s counsel Sibal mentioned the matter before a bench comprising of Justices N V Ramana, M Shantanagoudar and Ajay Rastogi and asked for an urgent listing before the Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi.
* Sibal assured the bench that they would provide an undertaking, stating that Chidambaram would not go anywhere. “My client is not going to run away. A lookout notice has been issued against him…we will give an undertaking that he is not going anywhere,” Sibal informed the bench.
* Meanwhile, the Registrar (Judicial) of the Supreme Court pointed few defects in the SLP filed by Chidambaram’s counsel, preventing the case to be listed for today.
* Meanwhile, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) issued a lookout notice against Chidambaram. They said the alert against the Congress leader has been sent to all land, air and seaports.
* Moments later, the CBI and the ED filed a caveat in SC on Chidambaram’s plea seeking protection from arrest. The intention was that the top court should hear the probe agencies first before passing any order in the matter.
* As CJI Gogoi was hearing the Ayodhya dispute case, the five-judge bench did not rise before 4 pm. Sibal, who planned to mention the matter before the CJI bench, failed to do so.
* Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi backed Chidambaram, saying the government was misusing central agencies to “character assassinate” the former union minister. “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,” he tweeted.
* Rallying behind the former finance minister, Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra said Chidambaram was being “shamefully hunted down” because he “unhesitatingly speaks truth to power and exposes the failures of this government”. Calling him an “extremely qualified and respected member of the Rajya Sabha, (who) has served our nation with loyalty for decades including as Finance Minister & Home Minister,” she said the “truth is inconvenient to cowards.”
On May 15, 2017, the CBI registered an FIR, alleging irregularities in the Foreign Investment Promotion Board’s (FIPB) clearance for INX Media to receive overseas funds of Rs 305 crore in 2007 during Chidambaram’s tenure as finance minister in the UPA government. Last year, the ED lodged a money laundering case.