Former Finance and Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram is on the run after Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday did not provide any relief following the Delhi High Court (HC)’s dismissal of bail petition in the INX Media bribery case. Soon after the Apex Court’s denial of relief, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) sleuths started searching for Chidambaram including at his home in Jor Bagh in a bid to arrest to him.
Chidambaram has been enjoying interim protection from March 2018 and suffered a major setback Tuesday afternoon as the Delhi High Court dismissed his anticipatory bail in the INX Media scam, paving way for the investigating agencies, CBI and ED, to arrest him. The former Minister was inside the Supreme Court complex throughout the day to approach SC, if HC order goes negative.
The High Court held that he was “prima facie the kingpin” in the INX Media corruption and money laundering cases and “simply because he is a Member of Parliament would not justify the grant of pre-arrest bail to him”. Holding that the former Union minister’s custodial interrogation was required for an effective investigation, the High Court said, “granting bail in cases like the instant one will send a wrong message to the society”.
Justice Sunil Gaur, who is due to retire on Thursday, said this court cannot permit the prosecution in this “sensitive case to end up in smoke like it has happened in some other high profile cases”. “Facts of the case prima facie reveal that petitioner is the kingpin, that is, the key conspirator in this case. Law enforcing agencies cannot be made ineffective by putting legal obstacles in offences in question,” the judge said.
The High Court said this was a “classic case of money laundering” and the twin facts which have weighed to deny pre-arrest bail to him are “gravity” of the offence and “evasive” replies given by him to questions put to him while he was under protective cover extended to him by this court.
In the Supreme Court, all the Congress lawyers were present before the Registry for urgent hearing. However, the apex court did not grant any relief asking Chidambaram to mention the case on Wednesday morning before the senior-most Judge.
The high court said: “It cannot be forgotten that the petitioner (Chidambaram) was the Finance Minister at the relevant time and he had given FDI clearances to INX Media Group for receiving overseas funds to the tune of Rs.305 crores.”
Justice Gaur said: “Simply because he is a Member of Parliament would not justify grant of pre-arrest bail to him. The magnitude of the offence dissuades this court to grant bail to the petitioner. “It is preposterous to say that prosecution of the petitioner is baseless, politically motivated and an act of vendetta… The offenders must be exposed, no matter what their status is.”
This court is of the prima facie opinion that custodial interrogation of petitioner is required for an effective investigation, he said. The 24-page judgment said the gravity of offence committed in
this case amply justifies denial of pre arrest bail and it was of the prima facie opinion that it was not a fit case for granting the relief to him. It said: “Economic offences constitute a class apart and need to be visited with a different approach in the matters of bail.
“Taking note of huge magnitude of conspiracy angle qua the petitioner, it would be pre mature to jump to a conclusion that the provision of Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) would not apply to the instant case, as it cannot be said that the amount involved is below Rs.30 lakhs. Rather money laundering involved in this INX Media scam is Rs.305 crores and Aircel-Maxis scandal is Rs.3,500 crores.”
The court observed that the economic crimes of such “mammoth scale are craftily planned and executed”. “In this case, in view of the enormous material placed on record in respect of distinguished entities, various transactions, etc, this court unhesitatingly opines that bail plea is not acceptable,” it said.
CBI had registered a First Information Report (FIR) on May 15, 2017 alleging irregularities in the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance granted to the INX Media group for receiving overseas funds of Rs.305 crores in 2007 during Chidambaram’s tenure as finance minister. Thereafter, the ED in 2018 lodged the money laundering case in this regard. Chidambaram’s son Karti was arrested in this case on February 2018.
In 2007, INX Media TV Channel owners Peter and Indrani got FIPB (Foreign Investment Promotion Board) approval only to bring Rs.5 crores as foreign investment. But they illegally brought Rs.305 crores and were caught by Income Tax (IT) in 2008. When they got a notice from the IT department, Indrani and Peter approached the then Finance Minister P Chidambaram. In her confession statement, Indrani said that Chidambaram promised to save her from Income Tax prosecution and recommended that she give Rs.5 crores to Karti. The Enforcement Directorate (ED) found that this bribe money was parked in Karti’s two controversial firms – Advantage Strategic Consulting and Chess Management Services. After getting the bribe, Chidambaram, who headed the FIPB gave an illegal post-facto clearance to INX Media and blocked the Income Tax prosecution for illegally routing Rs.305 crores from tax havens.
INX media bribery case was unearthed after ED’s Investigating Officer Rajeshwar Singh conducted raids at Chidambaram’s home and Karti’s firms in connection with Aircel-Maxis probe in December 2014. The ED and Income Tax joint probe also exposed the illegal assets in 14 countries and 21 foreign bank accounts of the family. ED has already attached Rs.54 crores-worth properties of Karti and his companies in Delhi, Ooty, Chennai, London, and Spain in connection with the INX Media case.
Meanwhile, co-accused Indrani has already become an approver confessing to bribing Chidambaram and his son.