P. Chidambaram. File
Former Union minister and senior Congress leader P. Chidambaram received his first relief from the judiciary on Friday when the Supreme Court ordered the Enforcement Directorate (ED) not to arrest him until Monday. However, he remains in the custody of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) until Monday.
Justices R. Banumathi and AS Bopanna trashed the ED’s submission that there was no need for an interim order in favour of Chidambaram since he is already in CBI’s custody.
The court’s observation that Chidambaram was always on anticipatory bail in this case and has also co-operated with the investigators is a blow to the prosecutors and an acceptance of his arguments.
“It is not your case that he has not co-operated. He has always come when you called him,” Justice Banumathi told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who appeared for the ED as well CBI.
The judges also ruled that the trial judge will have to await the orders of the Supreme Court before issuing any order.
The Supreme Court has also agreed to hear his fresh petition challenging the trial judge’s order granting four days of custody to CBI. The bench will hear two petitions filed by Chidamabaram’s lawyers Abhishek Singhvi and Kapil Sibal against the CBI and the third one against the ED on Monday. ED cannot arrest Chidambaram as of now.
An exchange of hot words between Mehta and Sibal and Singhvi tensed up the hearing. Mehta vehemently opposed protection from arrest to Chidambaram, saying there was no need for such an order since Chidambaram was under the CBI’s custody and ED was yet to arrest him.
The judges, however, held the view that the background facts called protection till Monday.
Sibal said, “The petition raises the issue of his fundamental right to liberty. High court gave the order after seven months at 3:20pm on Wednesday and said we could move an application asking for time. At 4pm the application is rejected. We come to the SC, request for an early hearing.
“We are told to move the senior most judge the next day... we prepare the petition overnight... a notice is pasted at 12 in the night asking me (Chidambaram) to appear before CBI for two hours... there is no provision for such a notice.”
Justice Bhanumati questioned the details of the trial court order for custodial interrogation passed on Thursday evening. Sibal said the special leave petition challenging the order was ready and pleaded for the matters to be listed for Monday.
On the plea against ED, Sibal claimed that the Delhi High Court’s single judge had copy-pasted verbal arguments/notes of the respondents as observation in its order. This clearly showed his bias in the case, Sibal added.
Singhvi, also appearing for Chidambaram, said “How can the HC judge refer to Aircel Maxis case when he was hearing only the INX Media case?” Singhvi added that interim protection was already granted in the other case and it had no relation to the INX Media case.
Mehta tried giving the case diary in a sealed envelope to the Judge.
The same diary was given to the CBI judge who passed the order for custodial interrogation on Thursday evening. The bench, however, refused to accept the case diary.
The INX Media case relates to alleged irregularities in Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance given to the media group for foreign investment to the tune of Rs3.05 billion in 2007, when Chidambaram was finance minister. CBI registered a first information report on May 15, 2017, alleging irregularities in the manner the clearance had been awarded. The ED filed a money laundering case a year later.
The agency alleges that the former directors of INX Media, Indrani Mukerjee and Peter Mukerjee, made a payment of $5 million and $450,000 to Chidambaram in 2007-08 and 2008-09, allegedly for giving the FIPB approval. Peter Mukerjee and Indrani Mukerjee are behind bars in connection with the murder of Sheena Bora, Indrani’s daughter from another marriage.