INX Media Case: P Chidambaram In SC Offers To Remain In CBI Custody Till Sept 2

New Delhi: In an unprecedented plea, former finance minister P Chidambaram Thursday offered in the Supreme Court to remain in CBI’s custody till September 2 in the INX Media corruption case.

Chidambaram, who was arrested on August 21, is in the CBI custody till Friday and will be produced before the concerned trial court tomorrow on expiry of his remand.

The offer was made after a bench of Justices R Banumathi and A S Bopanna said it would hear on September 2 the plea of Chidambaram challenging the orders passed by the trial court remanding him in the CBI custody in the corruption case.

The bench, which did not comment on the offer of the former minister, said it would pronounce on September 5 its order on Chidambaram’s plea challenging the Delhi High Court’s August 20 verdict denying him anticipatory bail plea in the INX Media money laundering case lodged by the Enforcement Directorate (ED).

The bench also extended the interim protection from arrest granted to Chidambaram till September 5.

Chidambaram, in his plea, has sought anticipatory bail in the money laundering case.

Senior advocates Kapil Sibal and Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for Chidambaram, told the bench that since the plea challenging the remand orders is listed on September 2, Chidambaram is offering to remain in CBI’s custody till then.

“I am offering myself to remain in CBI’s custody till September 2. Enforcement Directorate should not have any problems with the offer. My CBI remand is coming to an end tomorrow in the CBI’s case,” Sibal said.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta opposed the submission saying extension of remand can only be done by the trial court as the case is pending there.

“If the same offer is made before the trial court tomorrow, then we may have no objection to it,” Mehta said.

Under the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), an arrested accused is remanded in judicial custody and sent to jail after the conclusion of the custodial interrogation by the investigative agency.

The top court also directed the ED to submit in a sealed cover under the official seal of the agency, the material which it wanted to place before the court’s for perusal.

The bench said it will decide on the question whether to look into the documents placed before it by the ED in a sealed cover.

“Whether to look into the documents will depend on the decision of the court,” the bench said, adding that if it decides not look into the document, then sealed will be returned to the ED as it is.

At the outset, Mehta, told the court that money laundering is an offence against the “society and nation” and they need to interrogate Chidambaram in custody without the “protective umbrella” of anticipatory bail.

“I have materials to show that laundering of money continued after 2009 and even till date (in the INX Media case),” he said while countering arguments advanced by Chidambaram’s counsel that ED cannot charge him for an offence with retrospective effect.

Sibal, on other hand, dared the ED to show any one bank account or any one property, which he had not shown in returns or declared publicly as a member of Parliament.

“Liberty is not one-way traffic. If they have right to arrest me, then I also have my fundamental rights. It is not a procedure of law that a probe agency gives its conclusion to a judge and the judge records his finding in his order. Can the procedure of law be destroyed in this fashion,” Sibal said and urged the court to call for transcripts of Chidambaram’s interrogation by ED.

Mehta countered the arguments that court cannot look into the materials collected during the probe without the accused being confronted with it and said if its is accepted, it would lead to “devastating results” in other case which are being probed by the ED.

“This submission is absurd and devastating results would follow if this submission is accepted. This is preposterous. This proposition of law will be then applicable to all cases,” he said.

“We (ED) are probing cases of Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi, Mehul Choksi, Agusta Westland scam, Air India, Zakir Naik, Hafiz Saeed, Syed Salahuddin, Shabir Ahmad Shah and others which include cross-border terror funding,” he said.

He said if the material is shown to an accused at the stage of pre-arrest bail, then he can tamper with evidence and may start “erasing the money trail” as most transactions are through a web of shell companies.

Referring to the accused in INX Media money laundering case, he said, “All these persons are equal in terms of resources, knowledge, intelligence and wherewithal”.

“Money laundering is an offence against the society and the nation and probe agency has absolute right and duty to unearth the entire conspiracy,” he said.

Opposing Chidambaram’s plea for anticipatory bail, he said, “interrogation will be a mere ritual if accused is under the protective umbrella of bail”.

Sibal said the court should ask the ED to submit the transcripts of interrogation of Chidambaram and see for itself whether he was evasive and non-cooperative.

Singhvi said, “Till 2014, I had a friendly dispensation and ED had no occasion to arrest me then. Now after 2014, what is the new point in the case for which they have arrested me in 2019, for the crime allegedly committed in 2007-08”.

CBI had lodged an FIR on May 15, 2017, alleging irregularities in FIPB clearance granted to INX Media group for receiving overseas funds of Rs 305 crore in 2007 during Chidambaram’s tenure as finance minister. Thereafter, ED lodged a money laundering case in 2017.