Congress leader P Chidambaram
Congress leader P Chidambaram
ANI photo

New Delhi: The Supreme Court Wednesday asked the Enforcement Directorate to reply to a plea filed by senior Congress leader P Chidambaram challenging the Delhi High Court verdict which denied him bail in the INX Media money laundering case.

A 3-judge bench headed by Justice R Banumathi issued notice to the ED on Chidambaram's appeal challenging the high court's November 15 verdict and posted the matter for hearing on November 26.

Senior advocates Kapil Sibal and A M Singhvi, appearing for the 74-year-old former finance minister, said he has been in custody for the past 91 days and high court has noted in its verdict that he is neither a flight risk nor can he influence the witnesses or tamper with the evidence.

"On these triple tests, the high court order is in our favour," Sibal told the bench, which also comprised justices A S Bopanna and Hrishikesh Roy, while seeking the bail.

The bench said it would issue notice to the ED and ask them to file response on the plea.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the ED, told the court that he would file the response by November 25.

Mehta said the arguments in the matter could be heard after November 26 as he has to appear in a separate matter before a Constitution bench of the top court on that day.

"You file your response. We will see on November 26," the bench told Mehta.

The apex court posted the matter for hearing on November 26 and asked Mehta to file ED's response in the meantime.

The high court had dismissed the former finance minister's bail plea in the ED case, saying prima facie allegations against him were serious and he played an "active and key role" in the offence.

Chidambaram was first arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on August 21 in the INX Media corruption case and was granted bail by the Supreme Court on October 22.

He was arrested by the ED in the money laundering case on October 16 and is in judicial custody till November 27 under the order of a trial court.

The CBI registered its case on May 15, 2017, alleging irregularities in a 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 in this regard in the same year.

In his plea in the apex court, Chidambaram has said the high court order denying him bail is "erroneous, unsustainable and liable to be set aside".

"It is also significant that in the present PMLA/ED case from the date of ED's police custody i.e. from October 17, 2019 up to date or even before, it is the admitted position that the petitioner (Chidambaram) has not been confronted by the ED with any other witness/ accused on any date despite incarceration in the ED case alone now being 30 days," the plea said.

Chidambaram has claimed that the ED "always intended to prolong" his incarceration by "unlawful and dubious means" and never wanted his custody for genuine "custodial/interrogative purposes".

The plea said that Chidambaram has "no undisclosed bank accounts", either in India or abroad, or any shell companies.

Denying him bail in the ED case, the high court had said that the entire community is aggrieved if offenders, who ruin the economy of the State, are not brought to books.

Chidambaram had sought bail in the high court, saying as the evidence is documentary and in the custody of probe agencies, he cannot tamper with it. The ED had opposed his plea on the ground that he has tried to influence and threaten witnesses.

He had denied ED's claim that he used the office of finance minister for personal gains and laundered the proceeds of crime, and told the high court that no material directly or indirectly linking him with the offence has been put to him so far or placed before the court.

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