Former Union finance minister P Chidambaram had asked the then promoters of INX Media Group, Peter and Indrani Mukherjea, to “take care of his son” when they met him for FIPB approval, ED Friday told the Supreme Court which protected the Congress leader from arrest till August 26 in the money laundering case lodged by it.
The Enforcement Directorate (ED) told the apex court that during the investigation it found Chidambaram had 11 “immovable properties” and 17 bank accounts abroad and his custodial interrogation was required to unearth the larger conspiracy in the case.
The “most surprising thing” found during the probe was that persons on whose names shell companies were created, had executed the will in the name of Chidambaram’s granddaughter, ED said.
Chidambaram’s lawyers countered the claims of ED and told a bench of Justices R Banumathi and A S Bopanna that he has cooperated with the agency during the investigation and there was no need for any custodial interrogation.
Chidambaram, along with his son Karti, is accused in a case lodged by the CBI on May 15, 2017, alleging irregularities in Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance granted to INX Media group for receiving overseas funds of Rs 305 crore in 2007 during he tenure as the finance minister.
Thereafter, ED had lodged a money laundering case.
During the arguments on Friday, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for ED, told the bench that the agency has “collected innumerable documents/evidence” to show that money has been transferred from one company to another shell company and Chidambaram has various properties in India and abroad “in the name of shell companies”.
He claimed that Chidambaram has “bank accounts” abroad in the name of shell companies and his custodial interrogation is necessary for unravelling the truth.
“CBI has recorded the statement of Indrani Mukherjea, which will be tested in the trial, that she and her husband Peter had gone to Chidambaram for FIPB approval and he (Chidambaram) had asked them to take care of his son,” Mehta told the bench.
Senior advocates Kapil Sibal and Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for Chidambaram, told the court that the Delhi High Court, while cancelling the interim protection and rejecting the anticipatory bail plea of Chidambaram on August 20, had taken on record the note submitted by ED which was not even argued during the hearing of the case.
Sibal said they were not given an opportunity to reply to the ED’s note and the judge who pronounced it after seven months copy-pasted the note.
“Word by word, comma for comma and full stop for a full stop, even adjectives were copied as it is and para wise noting was done,” Sibal said.
“Now if the courts are going to copy-paste from the note given by prosecution agencies then how will the people protect themselves,” he added.
Singhvi argued that the high court, in its August 20 order, should not have made observations such as the time has come for the Parliament to suitably amend the law so that “white-collar criminals” do not get anticipatory bail.
“It is quite astonishing,” Singhvi said, adding, that the high court has also referred to the “unconnected” Aircel-Maxis case in the order in which it dealt with the INX media cases lodged by the CBI and ED.
“The judge cannot refer to an unconnected case. This show that the mind is working to deny him (Chidambaram) bail,” he said.
Mehta, however, said that he would not “criticise” the judge and would not go into “rhetoric” in his arguments.
He said that INX media was controlled by the Mukherjeas, who are also accused in the case. Indrani has now become an approver in the case.
Mehta, who argued that evidence in the case in the form of “digital evidence”, said the high court had gone through the case diary and then arrived at a conclusion to deny him anticipatory bail.
“At a pre-charge sheet stage, we cannot divulge many things except to the court. A hue and cry is being made about vendetta and all,” he told the bench.
He said according to ED’s probe, “illegitimate money” was “transacted illegally” through money laundering and prima facie, shell companies were created in India and abroad by persons who were found to be in “close link” with Chidambaram.
“This is a case of monumental magnitude and I say this with a sense of responsibility,” Mehta told the bench, adding there are certain individuals who will never divulge anything if they are under the “protective umbrella” of anticipatory bail.
He said that when Chidambaram was questioned earlier by the ED, he was “evasive” in his replies and was not answering the questions put to him.
While opposing the grant of interim protection to Chidambaram, Mehta said that the apex court should go through the case diary to satisfy its conscience as to whether custodial interrogation was required or not.
The bench, after hearing the submissions, granted interim protection to Chidambaram till August 26 in the ED’s case.
The top court said it would hear on August 26 the pleas filed by Chidambaram challenging the high court’s August 20 order.