INX Media Case: Chidambaram tells HC Offences Alleged Against Him Are Not Grave

New Delhi: Former finance minister P Chidambaram, arrested in the INX Media corruption case, told the Delhi High Court Wednesday that the offences of cheating and criminal conspiracy alleged against him are not grave in nature and he should be released on bail.

His counsel submitted in the court that the offences for which Chidambaram has been booked carry only a punishment of up to 7-year imprisonment.

Justice Suresh Kait concluded hearing the submissions advanced by Chidambaram’s lawyers on his bail petition and fixed the matter for Friday when Solicitor General Tushar Mehta will commence his arguments on behalf of the CBI.

Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing Chidambaram, referred to a previous judgement of the Supreme Court. He said it provided that in criminal cases punishable with imprisonment of not more than 7 years, the accused should not be arrested and courts also should not remand them to custody unless the conditions specified therein are met.

In this case, the offences with which Chidambaram has been charged are punishable with imprisonment of not more than 7 years, at the time of commission of the offence, he said.

The 74-year old veteran Congress leader’s bail plea has been opposed by the CBI. In its written response, the probe agency has said that it is a “gravest case of economic offences” and the magnitude of financial embezzlement as also misuse of high public office disentitles him for any relief.

CBI, in its written reply, has said, “It is settled law that the gravity of the offence has nothing to do with punishment provided for the same. The gravity is to be judged by the impact, the offence has, on the society, economy, financial stability and integrity of the country.

“It is further well settled that the economic offences constitute a class apart and a class by itself, as it cuts the very root of probity and purity of public administration and results in eroding the public confidence which it reposes on the government elected by it.”

During the day, Chidambaram’s son Karti filed an affidavit in pursuance to court’s Tuesday direction asking him to disclose the source of certain government documents, relating to FIPB approval granted to the company, which were being referred to by his lawyers during the hearing of his bail plea.

He said in the affidavit that the documents were part of the ‘relief upon documents’ filed by the Enforcement Directorate in the proceedings initiated under section 5 (attachment of property involved in money laundering) of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) before the adjudicating authority here.

The affidavit stated that Chidambaram’s wife Nalini and son Karti were arraigned as defendants in those proceedings and they were furnished a copy of the relied upon documents, including these papers.

It said these documents have been obtained by Chidambaram from his wife and son.

On Tuesday, the court had given the direction to file the affidavit noting the objection raised by the Solicitor General that the lawyers for Chidambaram must disclose the source from where they got these government documents.

Besides Singhvi, a battery of senior lawyers, including Kapil Sibal, Dayan Krishnan and A S Chandhiok, appeared for Chidambaram.

Chidambaram, who was arrested on August 21 by the CBI, did not approach the trial court and had directly filed the regular bail plea in the high court.

Earlier, Sibal had said it was a collective decision of six secretaries of the central government and other officers to grant FIPB approval to INX Media and Chidambaram being the then finance minister had only signed it. He had said that Chidambaram was in jail while all others are out.

Sibal and Singhvi had contended that it was a not a case of taking out money from the country or cheating a bank and instead money has come in and it was not an economic offence, as alleged by the agency.

In his rejoinder to the CBI’s reply on the bail plea, Chidambaram has denied that he used the influential office of the finance minister for personal gains in connivance with his co-conspirators.

He has said that a look out circular has already been issued against him and it is preposterous to allege that he is a flight risk and can evade the process of law.

He has said the Rs 305 crore which came to INX media as foreign direct investment were well within the approved percentage of 46.216 per cent.

The CBI in its reply has said the gravity of offences committed by Chidambaram for which he is being investigated does not entitle him to seek any relief as it would not only be against the ‘zero tolerance policy on corruption’ but would also be setting a very wrong precedence in all corruption cases.

It has said the investigation revealed that Chidambaram, as the finance minister, had demanded illegal gratification and the payments were made in India and overseas to him and his accused son Karti.

Chidambaram, who was arrested by the CBI from his Jor Bagh residence here, is currently lodged in Tihar Jail under judicial custody till October 3.

The CBI had registered an FIR on May 15, 2017, alleging irregularities in the FIPB clearance granted to the INX Media group for receiving overseas funds of Rs 305 crore in 2007 during Chidambaram’s tenure as the finance minister.

Thereafter, the ED lodged a money laundering case in this regard in 2017.