Chidambaram Avoids ED Arrest Till Tuesday But Fails to Evade CBI as Delhi Court Extends Custody by 4 Days
The CBI sought extension of Chidambaram's custody by four days to confront him with certain e-mails and to unearth larger conspiracy.
Senior Congress leader and former Union minister P Chidambaram after being produced at a CBI court in the INX media case in New Delhi on Monday. (PTI)
New Delhi: In a major setback to Congress leader and former finance minister P Chidambaram, the Supreme Court on Monday rejected his petition against the Delhi High Court verdict which had dismissed his anticipatory bail plea in a corruption case lodged by the CBI in the INX Media scam.
The apex court said Chidambaram's plea in the CBI case has become "infructuous" since he has been already arrested by the agency. The top court said he is at a liberty to seek remedy in accordance with the law in the corruption case.
A bench, comprising Justices R Banumathi and A S Bopanna, however extended till Tuesday the interim protection from arrest given to 73-year-old Chidambaram in the INX Media money laundering case lodged by the Enforcement Directorate (ED).
The bench said it would continue the hearing on Tuesday on Chidambaram's plea in the ED matter against the high court's August 20 judgement by which his anticipatory bail plea in the corruption and money laundering cases was rejected.
The hearing also saw some drama as no sooner the bench assembled at 10.30 AM, senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Chidambaram, complained that his third plea challenging the August 22 trial court's order — remanding him to CBI custody in INX media case — was not listed for Monday despite the court's direction last week.
However, the bench, without giving any favourable order on the listing of the third plea, told Sibal that it would be listed for hearing only after the apex court registry gets necessary orders from Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi.
"The registry has some difficulty and they have to take orders from the Chief Justice," the bench told Sibal. "List the matters before an appropriate bench after obtaining order from the Chief Justice of India," the bench said.
Later in the day, two petitions filed by Chidambaram challenging the high court's August 20 verdict in the CBI and ED cases came up for hearing before the bench. Chidambaram was the Union minister for finance as also home during the UPA-I and UPA-II government from 2004 to 2014.
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 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 against him in 2017.
At the outset, when Sibal started to make submissions in the CBI case, the bench said, "the CBI matter has become infructuous". Sibal and senior advocate A M Singhvi then contested that the CBI ensured that Chidambaram's plea become infructuous by arresting him when he was seeking protection from arrest. When the bench referred to a Constitution bench verdict to say that his plea has become infructuous, Sibal said, "I (Chidambaram) have a right to be heard".
Referring to sequence of events starting from the high court's verdict to Chidambaram approaching the apex court, the senior lawyer said, "I (Chidambaram) have a fundamental right of liberty."
"The whole purpose of CBI was to defeat the fundamental rights of my client, and his liberty guaranteed under the Constitution. He should have been heard but the matter was listed for hearing on Friday and not even Thursday," he said. However, the bench said, "On that ground, we cannot convert your SLP (special leave petition) and treat it as your petition for bail".
Singhvi argued that when the apex court had on August 21 said the plea would be heard on August 23, the CBI should not have arrested him. "The prosecution had no business to render a pending judicial proceeding infructuous. I (Chidambaram) cannot be faulted for non-diligence. I moved this court with rocket speed," Singhvi said, adding, "It was for the CBI not to do something to render my Article 21 right infructuous".
He said when the matter was mentioned for urgent listing before the top court on August 21, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta was also present there and "his client (CBI) should not have acted in this way". However, the bench said: "So far as the CBI case is concerned, we are not inclined to hear it (plea).
"The grievance of the petitioner is that an opportunity of hearing has not been given to the petitioner in spite of direction dated August 21, 2019 for early hearing. It is stated that subsequently, the petitioner has been arrested on August 21, 2019."
It further said: "Since the petitioner has been arrested, in view of the judgment of the Constitution Bench reported in 1980...we find that this special leave petition has become infructuous.
The special leave petition is, accordingly, dismissed as having become infructuous. "The petitioner is at liberty to work out his remedy in accordance with law. The contentions raised by both the parties are left open to be considered at the appropriate stage."
The order to this effect was passed by the bench which did not accept the submissions of Chidambaram's counsel that the order should include that he would be at liberty to move for regular bail in the trial court.
Sibal then started arguments in ED's case and said fair trial and fair investigation are part of Article 21 and court must protect the right of liberty of Chidambaram. Countering Sibal's contentions, Mehta said that he would show to the court the material on the basis of which the ED has come to the conclusion that custodial interrogation was needed.
(With PTI inputs)
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