The Supreme Court on Tuesday granted bail to P Chidambaram against the Central Bureau of Investigation in the INX Media Case. However, the order of the Supreme Court which comes as the first ray of hope for the former Finance Minister in over sixty days, has little immediate impact on Chidambaram’s situation as he is currently under the custody of the Enforcement Directorate for custodial interrogation on allegations of money laundering in the same case.
The verdict, however, might have a significant impact on the future hearings that are yet to take place against the CBI as well as the ED before a court of law. In a 27-page order authored by Justice Bhanumati on behalf of the three-judge bench of the Supreme Court, the main allegation of the CBI against Chidambaram – that of having tried to influence witnesses during the ongoing investigation – has been torn apart by the top court. The Supreme Court has observed that “till date, there has been no allegation regarding influencing of any witness by P. Chidambaram or his men directly or indirectly. In a number of remand applications, there was no whisper that any material witness has been approached.”
The Court has also thrown light on the lack of details provided by the CBI regarding the witness-tampering allegation stating that the “CBI has no direct evidence against P. Chidambaram regarding the allegation of him directly or indirectly influencing the witnesses. No material particulars were produced as to when and how those material witnesses were approached. Also, no details as to the form of approach – whether (it was through) SMS, email, letter, or telephonic calls. Details are also not available as to when, where and how these witnesses were approached.”
On the last day of arguments before the top court, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta while arguing for the CBI had relied on a “crucial witness” who in a statement to the CBI on March 15, 2018, had said that P. Chidambaram had approached him/her regarding the case. The Supreme Court has specifically dealt with this submission of the Solicitor stating in today’s verdict that – “The said witness allegedly approached or the other witnesses in a case of the present nature, cannot be said to be a rustic or vulnerable witness who could be so easily influenced; more so, when the allegations are said to be based on documents. More particularly, there is no material to show that P. Chidambaram or his men have been approaching the said witness so as to influence the witness not to depose against the appellant or his son.”
The Supreme Court also went on to call the Delhi High Court order that had denied bail to P. Chidambaram “a generalized apprehension that appears to be speculative”. While also clarifying that although there was no question of P. Chidambaram being a flight risk, the Supreme Court directed the former Union Minister to not leave the country without prior court permission, to cooperate with the investigation and to execute a bail bond of Rs. 1,00,000. Chidambaram is all set to be produced before the Special CBI Court at the end of his remand with the ED on October 24.