Special judge Ajay Kumar ordered 14-day judicial custody for the veteran Congress leader, during which he will be kept in Tihar Jail.
New Delhi: Former Union finance minister P. Chidambaram’s desperate attempts to escape Tihar Jail in the INX Media corruption case went in vain on Thursday as a special court accepted the CBI’s plea and sent him to judicial custody till September 19.
Special judge Ajay Kumar ordered 14-day judicial custody for the veteran Congress leader, during which he will be kept in Tihar Jail. The court, however, allowed him to carry his medicines to jail and directed that he be kept in a separate cell at Tihar as he was a protectee with Z-category security. Solicitor-general Tushar Mehta said there would be adequate security for Mr Chidambaram in the jail.
Director-general (prisons) Sandeep Goel said: “He (Chidambaram) will be lodged in Jail 7. The facilities will be given as per the court order.” Jail 7 is meant for economic offenders. Another senior Delhi police official said the former minister will be treated like any other inmate at Tihar.
The special court also issued notice to the Enforcement Directorate on Mr Chidambaram’s plea seeking to surrender in the money-laundering case lodged by the agency, in which the Supreme Court Thursday dismissed his plea against the August 20 Delhi high court order denying him pre-arrest bail.
Mr Chidambaram, 73, was produced before a Delhi court on Thursday after the expiry of his two-day CBI custody. His 15-day CBI custody, ordered by the special court in five spells, which started after his arrest on August 21 night, ended on Thursday. The former minister will turn 74 on September 16, but will have to spend his birthday in Tihar Jail.
Mr Chidambaram’s counsel opposed the CBI plea for judicial custody, saying the veteran leader was ready to go into ED custody for interrogation in the money-laundering case arising out of the scam in which the Supreme Court had refused to grant him pre-arrest bail.
Mr Chidambaram was brought to the special court hours after he withdrew his petition challenging the non-bailable warrant issued against him, after which he was sent to CBI custody. He was produced before the special judge, who had on Tuesday sent him to CBI custody till Thursday, after taking note of the Supreme Court’s order which said Mr Chidambaram will be in the CBI custody till September 5.
Earlier in the day, the Supreme Court decided on his appeal against the Delhi high court’s August 20 order in the ED money-laundering case, rejecting his challenge to the denial of anticipatory bail. Rejecting the anticipatory bail plea, a bench of Justices R. Banumathi and A.S. Bopanna said the power to grant anticipatory bail was an “extraordinary power” that had to be used “sparingly”, and in “exceptional cases”, more so in economic offences as they affect the “economic fabric of society”.
The court said a case of money-laundering involves various stages of “placement” and “layering” — funds moved to several shell companies/institutions to conceal their origin and it requires a systematic investigation. It said economic offences were a different class, and grant of anticipatory bail, particularly in such offences, would “definitely hamper an effective investigation”.
In its order, the Supreme Court said: “Anticipatory bail is not to be granted as a matter of rule, and to be granted only when the court is convinced that exceptional circumstances exist to resort to that remedy.” Speaking for the bench, Justice Banumathi said: “The judicial discretion conferred upon the court has to be properly exercised after application of mind as to the nature and gravity of the accusation; the possibility of applicant fleeing justice and other factors to decide whether it is a fit case for the grant of anticipatory bail.”
Hours afterwards, however, another special court granted Mr Chidambaram and his son Karti anticipatory bail in the Aircel-Maxis cases. In the INX Media matter, Mr Mehta appeared for the CBI while senior lawyer Kapil Sibal represented Mr Chidambaram.
Mr Chidambaram, who was home minister as well as finance minister during UPA rule from 2004 to 2014, was arrested by the CBI on August 21 from his Jor Bagh residence. During the proceedings, Mr Mehta informed the judge about the outcome of the Supreme Court’s order in the ED case and also about the withdrawal of his petitions in the CBI case.
The CBI told the court Mr Chidambaram can be sent to judicial custody as he was a powerful public person and should not be set free. Mr Sibal opposed the CBI, saying there was no allegation Mr Chidambaram had tried to influence or hamper the probe. He said Mr Chidambaram was ready for ED custody in the money-laundering case related to INX Media.
Mr Sibal said Mr Chidambaram would surrender and the ED will take him into custody. “Why should I (Chidambaram) be sent to jail (Tihar)?” he asked, and pressed that the ED take him into custody. “There is nothing found against me. There is no chargesheet. They say I am powerful and influential. But they have no evidence. There is no proof of tampering with evidence. Has a witness said anything like that?” Mr Sibal argued.
The solicitor-general objected to Mr Sibal’s submission, saying he was arguing for bail. However, Mr Sibal said: “The reasons given in the application for judicial custody are non-existent. What do you need me in judicial custody?”
When the solicitor-general sought a clarification on what relief Mr Sibal was arguing for, the latter replied: “I (Chidambaram) am arguing for my release.” Mr Mehta said the Supreme Court had accepted his arguments in the money-laundering case filed by the ED and there is a strong chance of tampering with evidence and a response is awaited on Letters Rogatory sent to various countries.
The law officer said Mr Chidambaram was influencing banks in foreign countries and he was non-cooperative in the investigation, and the banks may not cooperate if he influences them. “This is a case of serious economic offence affecting the economy of the country,” he said, adding Mr Chidambaram was influential and may be able to influence witnesses.
Mr Mehta referred to a statement by a witness and said he can be easily influenced by Mr Chidambaram. He refused to name the witness in open court. The law officer said the stage hadn’t come to consider the release of Mr Chidambaram. He said: “This is a case for judicial custody till the bail of Mr Chidambaram is decided. Judicial custody is a natural progression.”