Aircel-Maxis: Chidambaram’s interim protection extended 13 times

New Delhi: A special court has extended 13 times the interim protection from arrest it granted to former Union Minister P. Chidambaram and 14 times to his son Karti Chidambaram in the Aircel-Maxis deal case, due to consecutive adjournments lasting over a year.

The father-son duo has been enjoying interim protection from arrest by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) which are probing the case despite the agencies opposing this and pressing for their custodial interrogation.

The case relates to a probe into how Karti Chidambaram got clearance from the Foreign Investment Promotion Board for the Aircel-Maxis deal in 2006 when his father was Union Finance Minister.

The agencies had alleged that the senior Chidambaram misused his official position to clear the Rs 3,200 crore deal without referring it to the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, in spite of only having power to approve foreign investments up to Rs 600 crore.

It was on March 24, 2018 that the court had first granted protection from arrest to Karti Chidambaram, till April 16, 2018 and later continued extending it.

Apprehending that he might be arrested in the case, he moved his anticipatory bail plea, as he had been arrested by the CBI in another case (INX media) on February 28, 2018. He was granted bail in it on March 23, 2018.

After two months, the senior Chidambaram also moved his anticipatory bail plea in the special court and secured interim protection from arrest till May 30, 2018.

The court extended their interim protection by issuing similar orders on June 5, July 10, August 7, October 8, November 1, November 26, and December 18, 2018. In 2019, a similar order was issued on January 11, extending the protection till February 18, and then to March 8, and then till March 25 and thereafter till April 26.

On Friday, Special Judge O.P. Saini refused to grant an adjournment of four weeks to the ED in the case and said that it is granting the agency the final opportunity to complete its argument in the case.

The court said that it would not allow the matter to linger for another four weeks and listed the matter for further hearing on May 6, extending the Chidambarams’ protection from arrest till then.

Representing the ED, advocates Sonia Mathur, N.K. Matta and Nitesh Rana had sought adjournments on the ground that Solicitor General Tushar Mehta was not available and argued that no prejudice would be caused to the Chidambarams as they were already given interim protection.

The ED also informed the court that it has issued Letters Rogatory to UK and Singapore and the process of gathering material evidence from certain countries in pursuance of Letters Rogatory is at a very advanced stage.

The agency further apprised the court that it has sent a team to Singapore to expedite the process.

The ED also told the court that on March 6, Karti Chidambaram was asked to provide details of certain specific transactions and responded that he needs three months time to provide desired information.

Appearing for Chidambarams, senior advocates Kapil Sibal and Abhishek Manu Singhvi strongly opposed the consecutive adjournments in the case.

The court, questioning the status of prosecution sanction pending against other government officials who are named as accused in the case, declined the ED’s adjournment request.

The agency had received requisite sanction from the competent authority to prosecute P. Chidambaram in the Aircel-Maxis deal case but prosecution sanction against other accused in the case is still awaited.

The CBI had, on July 19 last year, filed a charge sheet against 18 persons in the case, including the Chidambarams but the matter of taking cognisance of the investigation report is still pending due to non-available of sanction received from the competent authority.

On October 25, 2018, the ED has filed a charge sheet in the case against Chidambaram and a few others.

(Story By- Amiya Kumar Kushwaha)