The Supreme Court on August 27, this year, dismissed the senior Congress leader and the former Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram’s plea against dismissal of anticipatory bail in a case related to INX Media. Incidentally, the CBI Special court had extended the custody of Mr Chidambaram, till August 30, 2019. The Apex Court has delivered the judgment after hearing the arguments of the CBI and Chidambaram’s counsel minutely.
It may be recalled that Mr Chidambaram was arrested by the CBI on August 20, this year, after he failed to present himself before them for a day, in spite of the authorities concerned calling him four times to find out his whereabouts. The agency found, much to their dismay that his cell-phone was switched-off and he also did not respond to their e-mail. Only when the CBI could not spot him, despite their best efforts, they issued the “Look Out” notice at his residence in New Delhi, asking him to appear before the CBI within two hour.
It looked, as if, Mr Chidambaram was biding his time, as he was hoping against hope that the Supreme Court would grant him bail after its rejection by the Delhi High Court. But, much to his chagrin and discomfiture, his counsel was told that the Registrar was unable to list the issue, as the Apex Court was pre-occupied with other vital issues confronting the nation. By the time, he realised the gravity of the situation, the damage was already done. The exigency of the issue prompted Mr Chidambaram to reach the Congress headquarters to issue a press release, with his party lawyers around.
Interestingly, Mr Chidambaram, did not name the government for harassing him in the press release, or bothered to address a press conference, but only reiterated that “no charge-sheet was issued against me”. Naturally, when he reached home, the agency followed him and knocked the door. When there was no response, the CBI officials jumped through a side-entrance to nab him in a filmy style. It may be noted that Mr Chidambaram is accused by the CBI of facilitating a huge infusion of foreign funds into the INX Media in 2007, during his tenure as Finance Minister in the Manmohan Singh government at the instance of his son Karti Chidambaram, who allegedly received kickbacks of Rs ten lakhs for acting as an intermediary.
After dismissing Mr Chidambaram’s plea against the denial of bail in the INX Media case, the Apex Court heard his petition against the Enforcement Directorate. Kapil Sibal, appearing for his client argued that submitting documents in a sealed envelope “is violation of his right under Article 21.” Justice Banumati, heading the Supreme Court bench, made it clear that it is well-nigh-impossible for the Court to convert the Special Leave Petition, before delivering that the former Union Minister was granted the liberty to move appropriately the court for regular bail. Chidambaram and Karti were named by INX Media co-founders Peter and Indrani Mukherjee. The couple is in prison at Mumbai now for the murder of Indrani’s daughter Sheena Bora. In a sudden development, Indrani has turned approver in the case and reportedly revealed details of her meeting with Chidambaram and his son. The Enforcement Directorate has filed a money-laundering case linked to the INX Media allegations.
It may be mentioned that the Delhi High Court had dismissed Mr Chidambaram’s request for anticipatory bail, calling him the “kingpin”. The Apex Court has validated the stand taken by the High Court, stating that, when the former Finance Minister was already arrested by the CBI, there was no point in issuing an anticipatory bail, and termed his argument as “infructuous”. Moreover, Mr Chidambaram was given bail for about ten months earlier. For instance, in 2017, the CBI had registered an FIR, alleging irregularities in the Foreign Investment Promotion Board clearance to INX Media for Rs 305 crore in 2007, when Mr Chidambaram was the Union Finance Minister. However, Karti and his father demanded an explanation from the CBI and ED that why it took such a long time for them to register cases against them.
A few advocates say, that with its poor track record of prosecuting economic offences, a recent example of being the 2G spectrum scam case, CBI’s actions on the INX Media case bordered on incompetence, as the agency’s inability to trace Mr Chidambaram throughout the day in a high-security zone, showed them in poor light. For example, if the Former Union Minister is indeed guilty of accepting bribes in FIPB approvals, it is incumbent on enforcement agencies to prove a money link directly connecting him. Inappropriate actions might reflect on the bureaucracy, besides attracting charges of political witch hunts, as the CBI was always suspected as a ruling party’s tool. For instance, ED hastened to summon Former Haryana Chief Minister B.S. Hooda recently, while anti-corruption probes appear to have been ruled out against the Former Trinamool Congress leader Mukul Roy and the Congress leader Himanta Biswa Sharma after they joined BJP.
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