The Delhi HC today issued a notice to the CBI, asking the agency to file its status report in the INX Media Case within the next seven days.
The matter was listed before a Single Judge Bench of Justice Suresh Kumar Kait, who was listening to Chidambaram’s application for regular bail in regards with his role in the INX Media case.
After Justice Kait voiced his reservations against it, Chidambaram’s counsel also went on to withdraw their second petition, which challenged the earlier CBI court order remanding Chidambaram to judicial custody till September 19.
The former Finance Minister’s petition challenging the September 5 judicial custody directed by the trial court had stated that the petition arose “out of persecution” because Chidambaram was a “political opponent” of the party in power, and that it was a “clear case of political vendetta.”
Chidambaram’s counsel made heavy arguments to advocate why their client should be released on bail, but Solicitor General Tushar Mehta reminded the court of its earlier rejection of the ex-Finance Minister’s anticipatory bail plea, in which it had cited that “this is a very strong case.”
Justice Kait also refused to entertain Chidambaram’s request for home-cooked food during his judicial custody at Tihar jail.
“Same food is available for everyone,” he said.
The matter will be next heard on September 23.
At 2 PM, the action shifted to the Rouse Avenue District Courtesy House complex, where Special CBI Judge Ajay Kumar Kuhar was listening to Chidambaram’s surrender application. Chidambaram had been earlier been remanded to judicial custody in Tihar jail till September 5, and on the same day, had also filed a surrender application stating that he would like to be transferred to the custody of the Enforcement Directorate (ED).
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the ED, and Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, counsel for Chidambaram, made their arguments in front of Judge Kuhar.
SG Mehta took the floor first. He told the court that the investigating agency was currently interrogating six persons in relation with the INX Media case, and that they (ED) would not like to take custody of Chidambaram till their current and ongoing interrogation was concluded.
He told the court that the complete interrogation of these six persons is “extremely crucial.”
“The investigating agency has summoned six persons,” he said. “Three were interrogated and investigation is still going on.”
He also stated that all necessary background, for which the ED had got leads, had been procured by custodial interrogation of the accused (Chidambaram).
Mentioning that all sections of the PMLA still continues to exist in regards to Chidambaram’s role in the INX Media case, SG Mehta said: “But since the accused is elderly and is currently not in a position to tamper with evidence, or influence witnesses, the investigating agency would like to arrest him at an appropriate time,” so as to make the most of 15 days of custodial interrogation.
“Choosing the time for arrest is not the right for accused—it is the right for the investigating agency,” he said.
Stating that the ED would “approach for custody at an appropriate stage,” Mehta further said: “We would like to prepare background by interrogating the six persons so that the period of 15 days—which we cannot extend— can be effectively utilised at a stage where it would be conducive of a more meaningful investigation.”
“As of now you don’t want his custody?,” asked Judge Kuhar.
Mehta replied: “Once this exercise is over, we will approach to transfer his custody from judicial custody to our custody. We would not like to have simultaneous interrogations of others.”
“It is my case that arrest was, and is, necessary,” concluded Mehta. “We (ED) would have immediately exercised our powers of arrest, but would have been compelled to begin the period of 15 days (of custody) from the date of the arrest, without the precursor interrogations that we have carefully planned.”
“I would like to start the first day of 15 day period after I could conclude this six persons interrogation,” he said.
Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal argued that the reasons given by SG Mehta are an “afterthought” so that Chidambaram could continue to be in judicial custody for as long as possible, and then upon his release, be arrested by ED.
“This is a ruse…it is a punitive measure so that I continue to be in judicial custody as long as they can resist it in court,” said Sibal. “…prolong it as long as possible and then at an appropriate time, seek remand, and my judicial custody thereafter.”
“The stand taken today, that they (prosecution) have to interrogate other people and then question me, is something they never said anywhere in their affidavit.”
Stating that he was not against the “encyclopaedia principles” cited by SG Mehta, Sibal said: “Take me on remand. You were ready to do it on August 20 and 21—then what changed in between?”
“It is the accused’s right to surrender before the court—not even prosecution can stop that,” he said. “The whole intent is to harass me (Chidambaram).”
The court will pass an order regarding Chidambaram’s surrender application on Friday. Meanwhile, the Delhi HC has set the next date of its hearing on September 23.