HC rejects anticipatory bail plea; arrest imminent; will move SC in appeal today

New Delhi: In a big jolt to former Finance Minister P Chidambaram, the Delhi High Court on Tuesday rejected his anticipatory bail plea in corruption and money laundering cases related to INX Media.

He also did not get any immediate relief from the Supreme Court, except for being told to mention it on Wednesday when the court reopens at 10.30 AM.

With that, Chidambaram faces the prospect of imminent arrest: the probe agencies can take him into custody any time. However, till late into the night he was untraceable and incommunicado. He has switched off his phones even as enforcement agencies are looking for him.

A CBI team, too, was stationed outside his home at Jor Bagh but he was possibly hobnobbing with other senior lawyers to prepare the brief for his appeal before the Apex Court on Wednesday.

Chidambaram, who is himself a celebrated senior advocate, is being helped by a battery of top senior advocates belonging to the Congress, led by Kapil Sibal, Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Salman Khurshid.

Sibal pleaded in vain with the Registry to put up the matter before CJI Gogoi, but the additional registrar refused, stating that the CJI was busy in with the nitty-gritty of the Ayodhya bench.

Nor did Sibal get any help from the Supreme Court registrar, but a word came from the CJI just after his Bench rose, that Chidambaram can mention the matter before the senior-most judge on Wednesday.

On July 25 last year, the Delhi High Court had granted interim protection to Chidambaram from arrest and extended the relief from time to time. Chidambaram had pressed for anticipatory bail fearing arrest after the ED and the CBI kept summoning him for interrogation.

It nonetheless came as a bombshell when the single-judge Bench of Justice Gaur rejected his prayer for anticipatory bail; he had kept the verdict reserved for over six months.

Justice Gaur was very harsh on him in the order and said: "Facts of the case prima facie reveal that the petitioner is the kingpin, that is, the key conspirator in this case."

"It is preposterous to say Chidambaram’s prosecution is baseless, politically motivated and an act of vendetta. It is a classic case of money laundering.

This is an economic offence and has to be dealt with iron hands... The hands of investigating agencies cannot be tied up in such a massive economic offence," the order said, referring to the two agencies which are seeking his custody since he was not cooperating otherwise.

The judge said the "magnitude and enormity" of material produced by the investigating agencies "dis-entitles him from any pre-arrest bail since he has been "evasive in his replies and has not cooperated with the investigations."

Chidambaram has been questioned several times in the case, which involves alleged kickbacks received by his businessman son Karti Chidambaram in exchange for allowing the Mumbai-based television company to receive foreign funds to the tune of Rs. 305 crore in 2007.

At that time, Chidambaram was the finance minister in the UPA government headed by Manmohan Singh. It has been alleged that that he was instrumental in providing government clearance to INX Media to receive foreign funds.

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