New Delhi: In a relief to former finance minister P. Chidambaram, the Supreme Court on Tuesday granted him bail in the INX Media case being investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) while trashing the investigating agency’s assertions that he was a flight risk, and saying that there was “no whisper” of any evidence that he had tried to influence witnesses or tamper with documents.
Mr Chidambaram, who has spent two months in the custody of enforcement agencies and in jail, can’t walk free at least till Thursday as he is currently in the Enforcement Directorate’s custody in a related money laundering matter.
Mr Chidambaram, 74, was arrested by the CBI from his Jor Bagh home here in a late night drama on August 21. A city court on October 18 remanded the Congress veteran to the ED custody till Thursday.
Setting aside the Delhi high court’s September 30 verdict denying bail to Mr Chidambaram, a bench of Justice R. Banumathi, Justice A.S. Bopanna and Justice Hrishikesh Roy said that he was not a “flight risk” and there was “no possibility of his abscondence from the trial.”
The apex court said that the high court’s order, which said that the possibility of the senior Congress leader influencing witnesses could not be ruled out, was not “substantiated by any finding
materials and is only a generalised apprehension and appears to be speculative.”
Noting that the CBI had no evidence against Mr Chidambaram regarding directly or indirectly influencing witnesses, the court said, “In number of remand applications, there was no whisper that any material witness has been approached not to disclose information about the appellant (Chidambaram) and his son. It appears that only at the time of opposing the bail and in the counter affidavit filed by the CBI before the high court, the averments were made that ‘....the appellant is trying to influence the witnesses and, if enlarged on bail, would further pressurise the witnesses...”
“In the absence of any contemporaneous materials, no weight could be attached to the allegation that the appellant has been influencing the witnesses by approaching the witnesses,” the court said.
Brushing aside solicitor general Tushar Mehta’s contention that “flight risk” of economic offenders should be looked at as a national phenomenon, the court said that there can’t be a universal formula “merely because certain other offenders have flown out of the country”. The court said that all such considerations, including who is a “flight risk”, should be made on individual basis, “uninfluenced by unconnected cases, more so, when the personal liberty is involved”.
The court also noted that ever since the registration of FIR on May 15, 2017, and the interim protection granted by Delhi high court on May 31, 2018, Mr Chidambaram had never sought permission to travel abroad.
The CBI is investigating alleged offences, including criminality and corruption, in the grant of FIPB clearance for overseas investment in INX Media that was far in excess of the permitted limit.
The top court’s ruling came on an appeal by Mr Chidambaram challenging Delhi high court order rejecting his bail plea. He has to submit a bail bond of Rs 1 lakh with two sureties of the same amount. He will also have to deposit his passport with the Special Court.
Directing Mr Chidambaram to make himself available for investigation as and when required, Justice Banumathi speaking for the bench said that the order granting bail was limited to the INX Media case being investigated by the CBI and would not have any bearing on any other proceedings.
Mr Chidambaram has been in Tihar Jail since the rejection of his anticipatory bail by the top court on September 5, 2019. On that very day the special CBI court sent him to 14 days judicial custody to and the same has been extended since then.