All are equal before law, so is P Chidambaram

All are equal before the law which is why the CBI got custody of P Chidambaram till August 26th. He broke legal protocol by addressing the judge directly even after having two senior counsels to represent him. He said that the CBI asked him if he had a foreign bank account and if his son Karti had one too. He replied in the negative to the first and affirmatively to the second question. Strangely, senior counsels Kapil Sibal and Abhishek Manu Singhvi tied themselves in knots when they said it was six senior secretaries of the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) who had approved the investments and Chidambaram only provided a clearance. This is a direct admission that he is the “kingpin” in this massive corruption case. There is no doubt about the fact that he was uncooperative with the CBI leading to the judge granting it custody.

INX Media was one of six companies which got FDI above the sanctioned limit. This opened a can of worms when Indrani Mukerjea who was accused of murdering her own daughter, squealed in an official confession to a magistrate that her company paid bribes to Karti Chidambaram to get the FDI okayed by the Foreign Investment Promotion Board. But Karti has denied ever having met Indrani or Peter Mukerjea. In return for squealing, Indrani has been pardoned from being prosecuted in this case. Apparently, there is more to this than meets the eye.

By calling Chidambaram a “kingpin” in the huge scam, the judge has boosted the prosecution case which he is not supposed to do. In our adversarial system, a judge is a neutral umpire who does not take sides but only decides whether it is bail or jail for Chidambaram. In the heat of arguments, judges often do make oral observations. But the observation of Chidambaram being a kingpin in the scam when he was the finance minister strengthens the prosecution case. That means the judge has scrutinized enough evidence to prove Chidambaram was the brain behind the fraud-and-bribery scam.

There is also no doubt that corruption in high places must be weeded out. And if you are a former finance minister, you cannot plead to be above the law just because you are a Rajya Sabha MP which Chidambaram, being a senior lawyer himself, knows very well. But while assessing these facts, one wonders if Chidambaram was so stupid as to meet Indrani Mukerjea directly in North Block and tell her to pay Rs 3.5 crore to his son’s firm when it could have been done through middlemen.

Apart from the Indian Penal Code, there is the Prevention of Corruption Act and the Prevention of Money Laundering Act which have been attracted for Chidambaram’s alleged wrongdoing. But by climbing the wall of Chidambaram’s house at Jor Bagh late at night, neither the CBI nor the Enforcement Directorate, both of which are under the Central government, have emerged in a positive light. Chidambaram’s senior counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi told the media that the order refusing pre-arrest bail to Chidambaram was one which had been written by the government and “copied verbatim.” This constitutes contempt of court but whether the high court will take cognizance of such utterances to really uphold the dictum that all are equal before the law remains to be seen.

Singhvi knows very well that one can criticize a judgment but not impute motives to a judge. By insinuating that Justice Gaur’s order was copied verbatim from what the government had given him, he is denigrating the image of an upright judge who has protected Chidambaram from arrest in the past. But all are sometimes not equal before the law and a senior counsel like Abhishek Manu Singhvi may get away with attributing motives to a high court judge. When asked what would be his strategy after Chidambaram’s arrest, Singhvi shot back: “Have we withdrawn our challenge to the order refusing anticipatory bail to Chidambaram?” This implies that Singhvi has something up his sleeve of which the media are unaware. What will take place is well worth watching.

The writer holds a PhD in Media Law. He is a journalist-cum-lawyer of the Bombay High Court. Cartoon courtesy: Mika Azizi

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