The co-accused Indrani Mukerjea has not merely accepted in her statement (which has evidentiary value) to giving the bribe but has also identified the receiver of that money.
One of the recurring themes in the condemnation by the Congress party and its apologists of Karti Chidambaram’s arrest is the Central Bureau of Investigation’s ‘sole’ dependence on the statement of a co-accused in the case. Let’s deal with the points of criticism to understand how shallow that criticism is. But first, the bare facts.
Indrani Mukerjea is a co-accused in the matter that has led to Karti Chidambaram’s arrest. She made a statement that was recorded before a magistrate under Section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, also known as the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC). As a result, the confessional statement became admissible as evidence before a court of law, unlike a statement that is recorded before the police. The legal sanctity that Mukerjea’s statement received by virtue of this procedure has understandably rattled the Congress camp. She made, inter alia, two remarks. The first is that her company, INX Media, paid a bribe to one of Karti Chidambaram’s firms to facilitate foreign investment in the entity she and her husband Peter Mukerjea owned. The other is that she met then Union Finance Minister and Karti’s father P Chidambaram at the latter’s office, and was told by the Minister to help his son’s business.
Now, we come to the grounds of criticism leveled by the Congress and allied camps. Senior party leader and himself an eminent lawyer, Kapil Sibal, said that the CBI had relied only on the confessional statement to implicate Karti Chidambaram because they had nothing else. The probe agency did rely heavily on Indrani Mukerjea’s recorded statement, but not ‘only’. It has said that it has material to back the charges she has made, and it would be presented to the courts in due course of time. With fresh material tumbling out by the day, the probe agency will have a problem not of scarcity but of a glut of evidence.
A mere confessional statement serves no purpose if it does not get backed by collateral evidence.
The second criticism is that, because Indrani Mukerjea is facing the charge of murder in another unrelated case, she has made the confession in the Karti issue to see some relief in the first case. This is ridiculous because the evidence in the murder case will not simply evaporate because she has decided to turn ‘approver’ in another case. Besides, a good deal of the details in the murder case is in the public domain and cannot be wished away even if someone wanted it to.
The third criticism is that Indrani Mukerjea wants to get away lightly over her role in the INX Media issue, and so she decided to humor the probe agency. In the first place, a mere confessional statement serves no purpose if it does not get backed by collateral evidence. Therefore, Indrani Mukerjea could not have said what she did to serve as a red herring, because it would have boomeranged on her and further damaged her prospects. Besides, there is no question of securing relief of innocence through a statement recorded under Section 164 of the CrPC. On the contrary, Indrani Mukerjea has actually implicated herself by admitting to being a bribe-giver. All that she has done is to identify the bribe taker.
Section 164 is clear on the consequences, and Indrani Mukerjea must have known of it. It says: “The Magistrate shall, before recording any such confession, explain to the person making it that he is not bound to make a confession and that if he does so, it may be used as evidence against him; and the Magistrate shall not record any such confession unless, upon questioning the person making it, he has reason to believe that it is being made voluntarily.” Thus, it is evident that Indrani Mukerjea made the statement on her free will and in the knowledge that the material she provided could be used as evidence against her. It was not a window of escape for her.
A pardon can only be in the case under question and not in any other where the same person is an accused.
It is not clear if Indrani Mukerjea has been designated as an ‘approver’, as the term is understood vide provisions of Sections 306 to 308 of the CrPC — it does not appear to be the case for now. If a co-accused turns approver, then that person stands a chance of being pardoned by the courts. But it must be kept in mind that a pardon is not a certain outcome. Moreover, a pardon can only be in the case under question and not in any other where the same person is an accused.
And, whatever the case may be, the Supreme Court has not taken kindly to the practice of carte blanche pardons to an accused turned approver — which is akin to ‘plea bargaining’. In the State of Uttar Pradesh versus Chandrika case, the apex court had noted that “mere acceptance or admission of guilt should not be a ground for reduction of sentence. Nor can the accused bargain that as he is pleading guilty, the sentence be reduced”.
Of course, the Karti Chidambaram case is somewhat different because the co-accused Indrani Mukerjea has not merely accepted in her statement (which has evidentiary value) to giving the bribe but has also identified the receiver of that money.
Still, the bottom line is that there is little evidence of what the Congress and its supporters are implying: That Indrani Mukerjea’s statement cannot be considered credible because it is motivated by self-gain.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.