After multiple twists and turns throughout the course of the week, a Special CBI court today sent ex-Union Minister P. Chidambaram to judicial custody till September 19, in connection with his role in the INX Media case.
Effective immediately, this means that Chidamabaram will have to be in Tihar Jail’s jail no. 7 until then.
Earlier this morning at the Supreme Court, a two-judge bench of Justices R Bhanumati and A S Bhopanna had rejected Chidambaram’s anticipatory bail plea, in the case registered against him by the Enforcement Directorate (ED), which alleges money laundering in the INX Media deal.
“We are of the view that this is not a case fit to grant anticipatory bail,” said Justice Bhanumati, while reading out the order. She also said that “economic offences are a class apart” and that such offences “involve loss of public funds” and require a “different approach.”
The SC bench said that although the court has powers to examine the documents submitted by the investigating agency for the purposes of deciding the bail plea, in this case, it had refrained from exercising this power so as not to prejudice the ongoing investigation.
“In this case, the ED has produced materials collected during investigation,” she said. “Court can receive the materials and documents during investigation to satisfy its conscience that the investigation is proceeding right…”
“In the present case, a sealed cover was received, but we have refrained from opening the sealed cover. It might cause prejudice…,” said the court, while reading out the order.
It added: “The investigating agency would be exposing evidence collected by huge efforts….and this would give a chance to the accused to tamper with evidence and destroy the money trail.”
The bench also asked Chidambaram’s counsel to move for regular bail, and not anticipatory bail.
Shortly after his anticipatory bail pleas was rejected, Chidamabaram’s counsel, Senior Advocates Kapil Sibal and Abhishek Manu Singhvi also submitted a plea in the SC to withdraw the Special Leave Petition (SLP) filed by Chidambaram that challenged the August 22 order passed by Special CBI Judge Ajay Kumar Kuhar, remanding him to CBI custody.
Pre-arrest bail granted in Aircel-Maxis case
Once the matter was heard in the SC, all eyes were on the Rouse Avenue District Court House Complex, where another Special CBI judge was due to pronounce an order regarding Chidambaram’s pre-arrest bail at 2 pm, in regard to his connection in the Aircel-Maxis money laundering case, filed against him by the ED.
Special CBI Judge O.P Saini went on to grant pre-arrest bail to P. Chidambaram and his son Karti in all four applications in the Aircel-Maxis case.
The court also asked the duo to co-operate with the authorities during the course of investigation, and said that in event of arrest, they be released on a personal bond of Rs 1 lakh and one surety of like amount.
Both, father and son, have been enjoying interim protection in the Aircel-Maxis case since last year.
Sibal argues for immediate release, but court sends Chidambaram to judicial custody
In the aftermath of the order passed by Special Judge O.P Saini, Chidambaram was produced before a separate Special CBI Court in Rouse Avenue, where the matter of him being remanded to judicial custody or being sent to ED custody was to be heard.
Sibal argued that Chidambaram should be released since his 14-day period of CBI custody was over, but Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the CBI, asked the court to let law take its natural course and for him (Chidambaram) to be sent to judicial custody.
Mehta informed Special Judge Ajay Kumar Kuhar of the two proceedings that had taken place earlier in the day at the Supreme Court. The first was Chidambaram’s plea for anticipatory bail in regard to the INX Media case filed by ED. The second was about Chidambaram’s withdrawal of his Special Leave Petition (SLP) that challenged the August 22 order passed by Special CBI Judge Ajay Kumar Kuhar, remanding Chidambaram to CBI custody.
“Supreme Court has said all interim orders passed, now stand vacant,” said Mehta. “This is the position as on date.” He also said that Chidambaram, being an “influential figure”, could tamper with evidence and influence witnesses if he was released and not sent to judicial custody.
However, Sibal argued that that “if the accused were powerful and influential, they (CBI/ED) would have brought some evidence on record that he has attempted or tried to interfere with witness and proceedings..that is not even their case.”
Sibal also questioned how could someone potentially tamper with the evidence since it was all documentary in nature. “2017 onwards, they (prosecution) have not given even one instance of me (Chidambaram) trying to tamper with anything. There is no case made out for influencing witness or tampering with evidence.”
“Is it their case that I can influence sovereign governments? Have they even said that I have made a telephone call?” asked Sibal.
“As far as CBI remand is concerned, it is all over. Then why should I be sent to judicial custody? They (CBI) have had me for 15 days. I am filing an application saying I’m willing to go to custody of ED. I’ll surrender, but why judicial custody?”
Sibal picked out words like “potential of”, “likely to”, and “apprehension” out the arguments made by SG Tushar Mehta, and said that these cannot be the basis of sending Chidambaram to judicial custody.
Mehta intervened. “Is my learned friend arguing for bail? Then we will argue accordingly…”
Sibal replied: “I’m entitled to argue that the application you have filed and the reason you have given for judicial custody are non-existent. That’s what I am arguing.”
“Is this an oral plea for bail?,” asked Mehta. “We will suitably deal with it.”
Addressing the court, Sibal said: “Prima facie, if they had produced some evidence on the basis of these allegations, I would have understood…there must be some proof on the basis of which these allegations can be made.”
He continued: “You have to place material to show tampering or influencing a sovereign government or anyone else. Detention in custody is not the legal or statutory right of the government and states, and of the investigating agency. Detention impacts liberty. You have to make out ground why it’s necessary to send him to judicial custody. If ED wants to take him, no problem, but CBI has to make a case saying judicial custody is necessary. That is my submission.”
Mehta argued: “We are dealing with a serious offence with two facets. The honourable court on two occasions found the case to be sufficient enough not to release the accused on bail, and remanded him to police custody. As far as ED is concerned, which is a predicate offence, the honourable Supreme Court accepts my argument of there being a chance to tamper with evidence.”
Mehta said that letter rogatory’s (LR’s) have been sent to companies and that their responses are being awaited. “These LRs are issued so as to get details from the respective banks… I am not saying influence sovereign countries and their governments.”
The Solicitor General went on to explain: “Generally, these kinds of laundered money are parked in banks…LRs are sent to various countries for collection of evidence. I’m not saying you will be wielding influence on the government (of countries like UK, Bermuda, Mauritius and Singapore), but the government(s) will have to depend on the banks where money is parked.”
“These are all economic offences affecting economy of the country,” said Mehta.
Sibal argued: “On first principle, there is no law under which a prosecuting agency can say that if remand is over, then he (accused) can be sent to judicial custody. There is no such law in any court in India. CrPC doesn’t say this and neither does any judgement.” He added: “A Judge needs to individually apply his mind…so let’s not make a submission that once remand is over, then judicial custody is the next step.”
He further said: “From July 2018 till now, is there any evidence that I (Chidambaram) have influenced any bank? What kind of submission is this? That I’m so powerful that I will influence sovereign governments? In other words, I will be able to influence investigating agencies as well….it’s unbelievable, this kind of an allegation. One year has passed and there is no substance in this allegation.”
“This is an argument for bail,” said Mehta.
“No, this is argument for release,” said Sibal.
After hearing arguments from both parties, Judge Ajay Kumar Kuhar asked the court to take a short half an hour break, after which, he would pronounce the order.
Upon his return after more than an hour, he sent Chidambaram to judicial custody till September 19.
Chidambaram’s counsel went on to move an application for “adequate security,” a separate cell equipped with a cot and a western toilet, and for his medicines to be allowed in Tihar jail.
“We will take appropriate measures for his security,” assured SG Mehta.
Chidambaram’s counsel went on to withdraw the application filed for interim bail, as well as filed an application for surrender in the case registered against him by ED.
The court will take up his surrender application on September 12.