New Delhi: A court here on Thursday sent former Finance Minister P Chidambaram to judicial custody for 14 days, till September 19, after the expiry of his two-day CBI custody in the INX Media corruption case.
It was an unprecedented setback for the Congress veteran, who even offered to surrender to the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in a desperate attempt to avoid going to jail.
Chidambaram, a former Union Home Minister who is just 10 days short of his 74th birthday, was taken in a blue police bus to Tihar prison from a special CBI court in Rouse Avenue, 18 km away, and lodged in the same jail No. 7 where his son Karti was locked up for 12 days in the same case last year. Jail No. 7 usually houses those accused in ED cases.
Chidambaram, who was accompanied by police personnel in the bus, was put in a special cell in Asia's biggest prison complex as per the orders of the CBI court.
As those assembled in his court waited with bated breath for the order after a 30-minute hearing, special judge Ajay Kumar Kuhar sent Chidambaram to judicial custody till September 19 in the corruption case filed by the CBI linked to the INX Media. The judge pronounced the order an hour after the brief hearing concluded.
With Chidambaram in jail, he can now apply for regular bail.
The Congress accused the government of "selective opposition persecution" and said in a tweet, "Those with the power of truth have the strength to fight any injustice."
Karti said both the INX Media and Aircel Maxis cases were "non-cases". "They (probe agencies) will never prepare a charge sheet. There is no evidence to charge us. For political reasons we have to go through this process. I have gone through this," Karti said, adding he was confident that his father will return home soon.
Chidambaram, a Rajya Sabha MP, faced a fresh setback earlier on Thursday when the Supreme Court denied him anticipatory bail in the ED's money laundering case related to the media company.
Holding that the ED case is "not a fit case" to grant him relief, a bench of Justices R Banumathi and AS Bopanna said economic offences stand as a different class as they affect "economic fabric of the society" and "extraordinary power" of granting anticipatory bail has to be exercised sparingly in such cases.
With the top court's order in its favour, the ED had the option to arrest Chidambaram any time but it decided against making its move. As a result, Judge Kuhar had the option of releasing him on bail or remanding the lawyer-politician in judicial custody.
Chidambaram was produced before the judge on the expiry of his maximum 15-day CBI custody ordered in five spells after his arrest on the night of August 21 from his residence in Jor Bagh here amid high drama when the probe agency personnel even scaled the boundary walls to gain entry.
The CBI 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 finance minister. The ED lodged a money laundering case in the same matter in 2017.
Allowing Chidambaram to carry his spectacles and prescribed medicines, Judge Kuhar said he should be provided a western-style toilet. The judge also directed that he be kept in a separate cell in Tihar prison as he was a protectee under Z-category security.
The court also issued notice to the ED on Chidambaram's plea seeking to surrender in the money laundering case lodged by the agency.
"The allegations against the accused (Chidambaram) were found serious and, therefore, he was remanded to police custody. The investigation is still in progress. The CBI has apprehension that because of his status and his position, the investigation may be hampered by the accused. It's not a case where the accused can be 'released' at the stage of considering his extension of his remand as submitted by the counsel for accused. Having considered all facts and circumstances of the case, the nature of offences, stage of investigation, the accused is remanded to judicial custody," Kuhar ruled.
The CBI told the court that Chidambaram can be sent to judicial custody as he was a powerful public person and should not be set free.
But Chidambaram's lawyer and party colleague Kapil Sibal opposed the plea, saying there was no allegation that he tried to influence or hamper the probe. Sibal added that Chidambaram was ready to surrender to the ED.
It was some consolation for the Chidambarams that another special court on Thursday granted anticipatory bail to them in Aircel Maxis cases filed by the CBI and the ED.
Special Judge OP Saini said charges against them were not of grave magnitude as the alleged money laundered is a "paltry amount" of Rs 1.13 crore compared to the money purportedly received by the accused already discharged in the cases.
The judge, however, directed the Chidambarams to join the probe in the cases lodged by the two agencies and said that in the event of arrest, they be released on a personal bond of Rs 1 lakh and one surety of like amount. The cases relate to alleged irregularities in the grant of FIPB approval in the Rs 3,500-crore Aircel-Maxis deal when Chidambaram was the finance minister.
(With inputs from PTI)