New Delhi: Former union minister and senior Congress leader P Chidambaram's plea for an urgent hearing of his anticipatory bail petition in connection with the corruption and money laundering cases related to the INX Media scandal was turned down by the Supreme Court on Tuesday afternoon. This came hours after Chidambaram’s plea was rejected by the Delhi High Court, opening up the possibility of his arrest.
The plea in Supreme Court was moved after senior advocate Kapil Sibal met Chidambaram and discussed with him the situation after the Delhi HC order. Senior advocates Salman Khurshid and Abhishek Manu Singhvi had also joined the deliberations in SC. The plea will now be taken up by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi's bench on Wednesday.
Chidambaram faces imminent arrest as the Delhi HC also turned down his plea seeking a stay on the operation of the order for three days. Denying protection from arrest to Chidambaram, Justice Sunil Gaur said that his status as Member of Parliament and member of legal profession doesn't affect the case.
Chidambaram has been questioned several times in the case in which his son, Karti, has been alleged to have received kickbacks in exchange for him allowing the television company to receive foreign funds to the tune of Rs. 305 crore in 2007.
The HC order said that prima facie, the “petitioner appears to be the kingpin of the entire scam” and has not cooperated with the investigation. “Magnitude and enormity of material produced dis-entitle him from any pre-arrest bail,” the HC said.
The court added that economic offence has to be dealt with iron hands. “Investigating agencies' hand cannot be tied up in such a massive economic offence.”
Justice Sunil Gaur had earlier reserved the decision on the plea on January 25. During the arguments, both the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate had opposed Chidambaram's plea on the ground that his custodial interrogation was required as he was evasive during questioning.
Both the probe agencies had contended that during Chidambaram's tenure as finance minister, FIPB clearance was granted to the media group for receiving overseas funds of Rs 305 crore. ED contended that the companies in which money was transferred are directly or indirectly controlled by Chidambaram's son, Karti, and they have a reason to believe that the FIPB approval was granted to INX Media on his son's intervention.
The high court had on July 25, 2018 granted interim protection from arrest to Chidambaram in both the cases and it was extended from time to time.
The senior Congress leader's role had come under the scanner of various investigating agencies in the Rs 3,500-crore Aircel-Maxis deal and the INX Media case involving Rs 305 crore. It was during his tenure as finance minister in the UPA-I government that clearances from the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) were given to the two ventures.
In the INX Media case, the CBI had registered an FIR on May 15, 2017 alleging irregularities in the FIPB clearance granted to the media group for receiving overseas funds of Rs 305 crore in 2007 during Chidambaram's tenure as finance minister. Thereafter, the ED had in 2018 lodged the money laundering case in this regard.
Chidambaram's petition had said that though no summons had ever been served on him by the ED in this case, he had an apprehension of arrest in view of the summons issued to him by the CBI, which was investigating the scheduled offence.
He had argued that neither did the FIR in the case name Chidamabaram as an accused nor could the sections invoked in the FIR make a case out against him. He also contended that at the stage of bail, the court need not look into the merits of the case and it only needed to satisfy itself on three conditions - absence of flight risk, no risk of evidence tampering, and accused being available for further investigation.