ED wants arrest only to humiliate me: Chidambaram to SC; family alleges motive by govt to demonise him

New Delhi/Chennai: Former finance minister P Chidambaram, who is in CBI custody in the INX Media case, on Tuesday claimed before the Supreme Court that the ED wanted his arrest just to "humiliate" him and asked how he can be painted as a 'kingpin' for an offence with retrospective effect.

As the top court extended till tomorrow the interim protection from arrest granted to Chidambaram on August 23 in the related money laundering case lodged by the Enforcement Directorate(ED), the senior Congress leader's family alleged that the government's motive was to "demonise and humiliate" him.

"We challenge the government to produce a shred of evidence in support of one undisclosed bank account, one undisclosed property or one shell company anywhere in the world," said the statement by the family of Chidambaram that was uploaded on the twitter handle of his son Karti, who is also an accused in the INX Media case. Karti is currently on bail.

Stating that the Prevention of Money Laundering Act(PMLA) was being retrospectively applied against him, Chidambaram also submitted that the ED be asked to produce transcripts of his questioning in the money laundering case.

The CBI lodged an 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 crore in 2007 during Chidambaram's tenure as finance minister. Thereafter, the ED lodged a money laundering case.

Chidambaram's counsel told the apex court that he was quizzed by the ED on three dates in 2018 and 2019 and transcripts of questioning would clear the air on whether he was evasive in his replies, as alleged by it while seeking his custodial interrogation.

"Their (ED) case is that they have all the evidence and documents. Our case is that they never put it (document) to him during the questioning," senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for 73-year-old Chidambaram, told a bench of Justices R Banumathi and A S Bopanna.

The bench will continue with the hearing on Wednesday, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the ED, said he would respond to Chidambaram's plea seeking production of transcripts of his questioning on December 19 last year and January 1 and January 21 this year during his arguments tomorrow.

Senior advocate A M Singhvi, also appearing for Chidambaram, said the former minister was not evasive during his questioning and has fully co-operated in the probe.

"You (ED) want to arrest me, but for what reason? The answer is -- to humiliate me, to humiliate me and to humiliate me, minute by minute and hour by hour," he said.

He argued that the ED had lodged the case in 2017 whereas the offences alleged are of the period 2007-2008.

Singhvi said penal provisions under which the case has been lodged became "scheduled offences" under the PMLA only after the 2009 amendment and the ED cannot do this retrospectively.

"You are trying to paint a person as a kingpin when these alleged offences did not exist at that time," he said, adding that fundamental right of citizens under Article 21 (right to life and personal liberty) cannot be suspended.

The Delhi High Court while rejecting the anticipatory bail of Chidambaram had held that the facts of the case prime facie reveal that the petitioner is "the kingpin, the key conspirator" in this case.

On the allegations of Chidambaram being evasive, Singhvi said 12 questions were put to him and though six of them were repetitive, he answered all of them and never said "to hell with you and I would not answer your questions".

"The question put to me (Chidambaram) was do I have a foreign bank account. I said I do not have any foreign bank account. Then another question was asked does your son have any foreign bank account. I said 'yes' and he has taken requisite permission from the RBI for that," he said.

"How does question of evasion arise unless they (ED) want you to give an answer which they want," he said, adding the ED has presented a "completely distorted version" of what evasion is.

He said Chidambaram was not a 'flight risk' that he may abscond, non co-operation does not mean that a person has to give answer which the probe agency want and there was no question of tampering of any evidence.

What can I (Chidambaram) tamper in an 11-year-old case? Which document can I tamper? The man was also in power till 2014," he said.

Sibal said they have also filed another application to place on record additional facts and challenge the order passed by the trial court on Monday extending the CBI's remand of Chidambaram till August 30 in the INX Media corruption case.

Chidambaram has also challenged the August 22 trial court's order remanding him to CBI custody till August 26. During the arguments, Sibal said ED cannot place documents in the court randomly and "behind the back" for seeking Chidambaram's custody.

"They are just producing documents at random and saying this is part of the case diary," Sibal said, adding, "They cannot place the documents behind the back and seek custody of accused. This is not permissible under the law".

In a statement, Chidambaram's family demanded that the Centre produce evidence in support of its allegations like properties in multiple countries and numerous shell companies.

The family said they were distressed that the "media has been reporting completely wild, unverified and unsubstantiated allegations" against Chidambaram in the last few days.

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