SC bars ED from arresting Chidambaram till Monday

SC bars ED from arresting Chidambaram till Monday

S Murari

The Supreme Court on Friday posted for Monday an anticipatory bail application filed by former Finance Minister P Chidambaram, saying that he feared arrest by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in a money laundering case arising from the main INX Media case.

A two judge bench, comprising Justice R Bhanumathi and Justice A S Bopanna, posted the plea for hearing Monday after ascertaining that the CBI Special Court in New Delhi had already remanded Chidambaram to the CBI custody till that day. The CBI had registered the case under the provisions of Prevention of Corruption Act and Indian Penal code and ED has registered the case under the provisions of Prevention of Money Laundering Act.

Apparently referring to the Delhi High Court Judge Sunil Gaur who gave interim protection from arrest to Chidambaram in the case for seven months till he finally dismissed his anticipatory bail on Tuesday, the apex court judges noted that during this period Chidambaram cooperated with the Enforcement Directorate and ruled that the interim protection would continue till Monday.

The court rejected the contention of Additional Solicitor General and CBI counsel Tushar Mehta that the anticipatory bail of Chidambaram had become infructuous with his arrest and there was no question of the ED arresting him when he was already in CBI custody till Monday.

Mehta also pleaded the judges to pass an order after perusing the case diary on the basis of which the Delhi High Court had rejected Chidambaram’s anticipatory bail and the CBI court remanded him to custody till Monday.

The bench, however, refused to accept the case diary after holding that the interim protection from arrest by the ED that Chidambaram already enjoys will continue till the next hearing on Monday when his remand with the CBI custody will end. Mehta argued that custodial interrogation was necessary for Chidambaram as he had been evasive and avoiding questions using his "mental faculties, grasp of legal and political knowledge".

"Given the background and mental faculties, we will never be able to investigate properly if there is a protective umbrella of anticipatory bail. This is why we need custodial interrogation," said Mehta. "We have electronic evidence, emails exchanges to trace route of illicit, illegal transfer or money. Shell companies were created by those having close connection with P Chidambaram and the money was laundered through these companies."

Appearing for Chidambaram, Congress lawyers Abishek Manu Singhvi and Kapil Sibal contended that his appeal against the rejection of his pre-arrest bail by the Delhi High Court had not become infructuous after his arrest as it was a question of breach of his individual liberty which had been breached.

Sibal claimed that the Delhi High Court's single judge had copy-pasted verbal arguments/notes of ED in its order. This clearly showed his bias in the case, Sibal added.

Abishek Manu Singhvi asked "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.

The INX Media case relates to alleged irregularities in Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance given to the media group for foreign investment Rs 305 crore 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 Enforcement Directorate (ED) filed a money laundering case a year later.

The agency alleges that the former directors of INX Media, Indrani Mukerjea and Peter Mukerjea, made a payment of $5 million and $450,000 to Chidambaram in 2007-08 and 2008-09, allegedly for giving the FIPB approval.

Peter Mukerjea and Indrani Mukerjea are on trial in another case relating to the murder of Sheena Bora, Indrani’s daughter from another marriage.