The greatest fear in the pre-emptive action of arrest is whether the CBI has the wherewithal to make the evidence count in court.
The manner and timing of the arrest of Karti Chidambaram, son of former Union finance minister P. Chidambaram, betrays heavy political connotations. He is accused of facilitating clearance for INX Media and then helping the company in 2007 to scuttle a probe into bringing in money way over what was sanctioned by the Foreign Investment Promotion Board. His dramatic arrest after returning from a court-permitted trip to Britain, that too when the NDA government is in its last lap before the 2019 general election, is reflective of a deeper political motive. The action may not be so much a diversionary tactic at a time of huge bank loan scandals popping out of the woodwork virtually on a daily basis as much as one driven by the compulsions of the BJP-NDA in the prevailing political climate. That Karti belongs to a party that is the only pan-national threat to the ruling BJP-NDA in 2019 perhaps says it all.
The crucial piece of evidence the CBI is pinning its case on is a confession by Indrani Mukerjea, jailed on murder charges with her husband Peter. Given the agency’s track record in prosecuting corruption cases, Karti’s case may seem particularly weak as it rests on a facilitation payment, rather common in business dealings. This is not to suggest that the businessman son of a finance minister can’t influence his father’s decisions or profit from them. Now that the case has been filed and the matter is before the CBI court, it must be pursued to a conclusion and it’s up to the court to pronounce whether the accused is guilty or not. Over a decade has passed since the acts, reportedly of financial manipulation to profit, were committed and the lapsed time in investigations is symptomatic of the CBI’s work in many corruption cases, making the circumstances of the arrest even more curious.
The fact remains that the CBI, seen to invariably act as a handmaiden of the ruling establishment, has a history of botched work in courts to prove charges and secure convictions. It’s moot whether Karti’s actions in the case of INX Media will see his father dragged into the case. It will be political adventurism if the authorities were to go for Mr Chidambaram, who has always held that very senior bureaucrats were part of the process of FIPB clearances. Flimsy evidence can’t be a framework for prosecution under the stringent Prevention of Corruption Act. Having reportedly grilled Karti for 23 hours in one session, the CBI is complaining of non-cooperation. In that case, the CBI has to go to court with what material evidence it has in the Karti matter and proceed legally. The greatest fear in the pre-emptive action of arrest is whether the CBI has the wherewithal to make the evidence count in court.