New Delhi: On his 99th day in Tihar Jail in connection with INX Media case involving alleged irregularities in the grant of FIPB clearance, the former finance minister P. Chidambaram on Wednesday told the Supreme Court that he was entitled to bail “forthwith” in the case relating to the allegation of money laundering as he was neither a flight risk, nor could he tamper with evidence or influence witnesses, as held by the Delhi high court.
Chidambaram was arrested on August 21, 2019, by the CBI and since then he has been in continuous custody. Currently, he is in judicial custody in the money laundering case being investigated by the ED.
Chidambaram told a bench headed by Justice R. Banumathi that he satisfied the triple test for granting bail. The court, however, declined bail pointing to the “gravity” of the case.
Pointing to the high court finding which said it would send a wrong message to the people of the country, if relief were granted, senior counsel Kapil Sibal appearing for Chidambaram said that “it sounds as if I am some kind of criminal like ‘Ranga’ and ‘Billa’”.
Ranga and Billa were convicted of kidnapping and murder of two siblings — Geeta and Sanjay Chopra — in 1978 in Delhi that sparked nationwide outrage and were sentenced to death.
The two hardened criminals were hanged in 1982.
“Far from the gravity of the offence, there is no offence at all,” Mr Sibal told the court, urging that Chidambaram should be granted bail forthwith as there was “gravity of baseless offences”.
The Delhi high court by its November 15, 2019, order had held that Chidambaram was neither a flight risk, nor could he tamper with the evidence which was in the custody of investigating agencies and influence the witnesses but refused to enlarge him on bail pointing to the gravity of the case.
Taking the court through the sequence of dates relating to the case, Mr Sibal said that the CBI, which had investigated the allegation of corruption in the INX Media case in its chargesheet, has alleged that Chidambar-am and his son were paid Rs 10 lakh the for retrospective clearance of foreign investment in INX News.
Chidambaram was Uni-on finance minister when the retrospective FIPB clearance was allegedly given.
And this Rs 10 lakh, which are the proceeds of the alleged crime of corruption under the Prevention of Corruption Act investigated by CBI, Mr Sibal told the court, have got translated into thousands of crores of rupees in the money laundering case.
Assailing the High Court order, Sibal told the top court that the submissions made by the ED in its response to Chidambaram’s petition for bail have become the findings of the High court.
He placed before the court both the submissions of ED in its (counter) reply and the findings of the court. He said that they were verbatim reproduction of the counter filed by the ED.
“Whatever is there in the counter of Enforcement Directorate, becomes the findings of the court. “Exact word for word”, Sibal told the court taking it through the ED’s counter and the High Court’s findings.
Referring to ED’s move to confront him with three witnesses who did not turn up and one of them refused to be confronted with Chidambaram, Sibal mocked at ED’s submission that he was influencing the witnesses while in its custody.
He said that these three witnesses were in the knowledge of the ED since 2018 itself, but agency chose October 30, 2019, to seek time from the trial court to confront them
The top court had on October 22, 2019, granted bail to Chidambaram in INX Media case being investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigation as court thrashed the allegations that he (Chidambaram) was a flight risk, could tamper with document and influence the witnesses.
The CBI is investigating the offences involving criminality and corruption in the grant of FIPB clearance for overseas investment in INX Media, which was far in excess of the permitted limit.
The hearing would continue on Thursday as Solicitor General Tushar Mehta would respond to the submissions by Chidambaram for bail.