NEW DELHI, Aug 23: The Supreme Court Friday granted protection from arrest till August 26 to former Union finance minister P Chidambaram in a money laundering case lodged by ED in connection with INX media scam, for which he is already facing custodial interrogation by CBI in a related case of corruption.
The relief granted by the top court in the case of Enforcement Directorate (ED) will have little effect as Chidambaram has been remanded in CBI’s custody till Monday by a trial court in the graft case.
However, the Friday order came as a setback to the ED as the apex court refused to accept its arguments opposing Chidambaram’s submission that he was entitled for protection from arrest, granted by the Delhi High Court on July 25, 2018, in the money laundering case.
A bench comprising justices R Banumathi and A S Bopanna said it will hear on August 26 the pleas filed by Chidambaram in which he has challenged the August 20 order of the Delhi High Court rejecting his anticipatory bail pleas in ED and CBI cases.
The bench said it would also hear a fresh plea filed by Chidambaram, challenging Thursday’s order of remand passed by trial Court by which he was sent to the CBI custody till August 26.
“In our view, having regard to the fact that the petitioner was also granted interim protection on July 25 and that the co-accused were also granted bail by the High Court, the petitioner is granted interim protection, insofar as the Enforcement Directorate case is concerned…till the next date of hearing. List the matter on August 26,” the bench said.
It also sought reply of ED on Chidambaram’s plea by Monday itself.
As soon as the order was dictated, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for ED, tried to hand over some documents in sealed cover to the court saying that the bench should satisfy its conscience before passing an order granting protection from arrest to Chidambaram.
The move was objected by senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Chidamabaram, who said that the same thing was done by the ED before the High Court and a note was submitted after the arguments were over.
The bench refused to peruse the documents at this stage and asked Mehta to submit them on Monday, saying these are confidential and cannot be kept like this with the court.
The hearing saw several rounds of heated exchanges between Mehta and senior advocates and Chidambaram’s party colleagues Kapil Sibal and A M Singhvi.
Mehta vehemently opposed the order granting protection from arrest to Chidambaram in the money laundering case and said that the probe agency “has collected innumerable evidence to show that the money has been transferred from one company to another shell company”.
He said Chidambaram amassed 11 properties outside the country and has 17 bank accounts, not only in India but also abroad, and the money was transferred through a web of shell companies.
Mehta said that lot of “hue and cry” and “political vendetta” is alleged by petitioner (Chidambaram) and his party colleagues but “I am saying with a great sense of responsibility that this is a case of money laundering of a monumental magnitude”.
He said custodial interrogation of Chidambaram was needed to unravel the truth and claimed that while being Union finance minister he had asked Indrani and Peter Mukherjea to “take care of his son” when she had met with him in 2007 regarding FIPB approval for their company INX Media.
Mehta said they need to confront Chidambaram with the evidences collected so far, including some e-mail and money transaction, as several persons who have created the shell companies have executed a will in the name of Chidambaram’s granddaughter.
Mehta said Chidambaram has been evasive in his replies, refused to divulge anything and have not cooperated in the probe.
“Custodial interrogation of the accused is necessary to unravel the truth which cannot be done under the protective umbrella of anticipatory bail,” he said and insisted that the court should go through the case diary and satisfy its conscience before granting any relief to the former minister.
At the outset, Sibal said that it is violation of his fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution, that his petition challenging the high court order was not heard by the apex court on July 20 and 21 and he was arrested on the Wednesday night.
“My rights under Article 21 cannot be frustrated”, he said and added that the high court, while rejecting the anticipatory bail plea, had taken on record a note submitted by the ED, which was not even argued.
“Word by word, comma for comma and full stop for full stop, even adjectives were copied as it was in the note and para-wise noting was done,” Sibal said and added that if the courts are going to copy-paste from a note of probe agencies then how will common people protect themselves.
Singhvi said that in the anticipatory bail rejection order of the ED case, the high court should not have made observations with regard to Aircel-Maxis cases.
The apex court was hearing two separate petitions filed by Chidambaram challenging the Delhi High Court August 20 verdict by which his anticipatory bail was dismissed in the cases registered by both the agencies– CBI and ED.
The CBI had registered an FIR on May 15, 2017, alleging irregularities in the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance granted to the INX Media group for receiving overseas funds of Rs 305 crore in 2007 during Chidambaram’s tenure as the finance minister.
Thereafter, the ED lodged a money laundering case in 2017. (PTI)