There seems to be no reprieve for Congress leader P Chidambaram as the Supreme Court on Friday has adjourned the hearing on his petitions against the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate until Monday, when the CBI custody of the former Finance Minister comes to an end. The top court granted him protection from arrest by the ED until Monday. P Chidambaram has sought a stay on the Delhi High Court's Tuesday judgment dismissing his anticipatory bail plea and paving the way for his arrest lodged by CBI and ED. The senior Congress leader had failed twice on Wednesday to get immediate relief from the apex court which refused to grant him urgent hearing on his plea seeking protection from arrest in the INX media scam cases.
P Chidambaram failed to receive any protection from arrest by the CBI as the Supreme Court decided to hear the plea against the central agency and the order granting Chidmabaram's custody to them on Monday. The top court also adjourned the hearing in his case against the ED till Monday, but provided protection from arrest by the central agency. Both, the CBI and the ED had sought his custody in corruption and money laundering cases with respect to the INX Media case. Indrani Mukerjea who was the promoter of the company became the approver in the case.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said that P Chidambaram's petition against the CBI has become infructuous. Chidambaram's advocate Kapil Sibal explained to the court saying, "After seven months the (Delhi) High Court order was passed. We requested the judge to give us two-three days to approach the Supreme Court, but the judge rejected our application at 4:00 pm. Overnight, we prepared the petition and moved the court as early as the next morning, but we weren’t given an urgent hearing in the Supreme Court. A notice is pasted outside my house saying appear before the CBI within two hours.
"On the next day in Supreme Court, nothing happens till 2:00 pm. Our petition was pure and free of defect. And by that time I’m still not arrested, the matter is listed for Friday but when I go home, I get arrested. My liberty cannot be frustrated in this manner. All that we wanted was to be heard, now they’re saying that just because they’ve arrested me, I can’t exercise my rights under Article 21. I came to the court in time, I was not arrested when I came here. My rights cannot be affected."
Justice Banumathi asked till when was the police custody of P Chidambaram given to the CBI. Sibal responded saying "Monday'', after which Justice Banumathi said that the case will be heard on the day the senior Congress leader's custody ends. Sibal informed the apex court that they have also challenged the order granting custody to the CBI. To this Justice Banumathi responded, "This, along with the original plea against the CBI, both will be taken up on Monday."
Both of Chidambaram's counsels Sibal and Abhishek Manu Singhvi argued that the ED did not have any proof against P Chidamabaram. They also blamed the judiciary by attacking the Delhi High Court judge who rejected the Congress leader anticipatory bail. "There is not a shred of evidence with the ED. They didn’t file an affidavit, they didn’t place anything on record, I didn’t get a chance to reply or argue. How can it become a basis to deny me anticipatory bail?" Sibal also showed the similarity between the August 20 order of the HC with an earlier order - saying that the order was copied from word to word. "After the arguments were over before the Delhi HC, they (ED) handed over a note saying these are the details of what we have found," Sibal added.
Singhvi also said that the HC judge recommends anticipatory bail should be made inapplicable for economic offences. He argued saying that. "The PMLA to be applicable there should be predicated offences A judge who is hearing the matter cannot say, 'I am refusing bail, referring to the Aircel maxis case. How can he connect it to an unconnected case? This shows how his mind is working." Both Sibal, Singhvi continued to lash out at Justice Sunil Gaur of the Delhi HC who has now retired.
SG Tushar Mehta countered SIbal's and Singhvi's argument where they said that the ED did not have any proof and no basis to seek custody. "INX media is controlled by Peter and Indrani Mukerjee. We have a statement of Indrani Mukherjee that says they went to meet P Chidambaram, they were told by Chidambaram that the FIPB approvals will be handled, they have to 'take care of his son'. The judge went through the case diaries and recorded the finding that P Chidambaram was the kingpin of the entire conspiracy.
Replying to the claims of the agency not showing any proof against P Chidambaram, the Solicitor General said, "At a pre-chargesheet stage, we can’t divulge many things. Let me explain why we need custodial interrogation. The evidence we have is in the form of digital documents. The searches were conducted, we have email chains. The money was transferred from one company to another company. These shell companies were created abroad.
"When I say this is a case of money laundering of monumental magnitude, I say it with some responsibility. So far it is found that in the name of these shell companies, there are ten immovable properties in other countries and 17 foreign bank accounts connected to the Chidambarams. The person in whose names the shell companies are created have made a will in the name of P Chidambaram’s granddaughter.There are certain individuals who would never divulge true facts if they are under the protective umbrella of anticipatory bail."
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. The irregularities were with regards to the company receiving overseas funds of Rs 305 crore in 2007 during Chidambaram's tenure as the Union Finance Minister. Thereafter, the ED lodged a money laundering case in this regard in 2018. The CBI had logded an FIR in 2017.