New Delhi: The Supreme Court Friday issued notice to the CBI, asking it to respond to former finance minister P Chidambaram's plea seeking bail in the INX Media corruption case.
A bench of justices R Banumathi and Hrishikesh Roy asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the CBI, to file its response and posted the matter for hearing on October 15. Chidambaram, who is lodged in Tihar Jail under judicial custody, has moved the top court challenging the September 30 verdict of the Delhi High Court which had dismissed his plea seeking bail in the case.
Chidambaram, 74, is in custody since his arrest by the CBI on August 21. A Delhi court on Thursday extended Chidambaram's judicial custody till October 17. Since his arrest on August 21, he has spent 43 days in custody, both the CBI and judicial, in eight spells.
He was sent to Tihar jail for the first time on September 5, till September 19, when his custody was extended till October 3. The CBI had registered an FIR on May 15, 2017, alleging irregularities in the 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 2017. Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Chidmabaram, said the high court had applied three tests -- flight risk, tampering of evidence and influencing of witnesses -- while deciding the bail petition.
Sibal said that on two counts, flight risk and tampering of evidence, the high court has ruled in favour of Chidambaram, while on the third count of influencing witnesses, the verdict has gone against the senior Congress leader. "This is concerning the CBI case. What has happened to the ED's case," the bench asked Sibal and senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who was also representing Chidambaram.
Responding to the query, Sibal said that the Enforcement Directorate has not yet arrested Chidambaram in the money laundering case related to the INX Media. Sibal and Sighvi told the bench that they would take 30 minutes to argue the matter. The bench told Mehta to file the response on behalf of the CBI and posted the mater for hearing on October 15.
Mehta told the court that he would file response on behalf of the CBI by October 14. Sibal told the court that they would also find a rejoinder, if necessary, on the CBI's response. The bench directed that the response and counters to be filed by October 14.
Chidambaram had on Thursday moved the top court challenging the Delhi High Court's September 30 verdict saying his continuing incarceration is in the "form of punishment" and liberty of an individual cannot be denied on the basis of "anonymous and unverified allegations".
The high court had dismissed his bail plea saying the investigation was at an advanced stage and the possibility of his influencing the witnesses cannot be ruled out. Chidambaram has said in his plea that "conclusive findings" have been rendered by the high court on the basis of documents placed before it in a "sealed envelope" by the CBI, which were neither part of the record nor shown to him, and he was not given an opportunity to rebut the same.
He said that high court has "erred" in dismissing his bail plea on a mere apprehension that he might influence the witnesses, without any supporting material, and on the basis of unverified allegations that do not allege or point anything against him.
He also denied the high court's finding that INX Media's former promoters Indrani and Peter Mukherjea had met him and "illegal gratification" was paid. Chidambaram has further said that case does not relate to "economic offence" and there is no loss to public exchequer.
He also denied the high court's finding that large amount of money had come into the companies owned or controlled by alleged co-conspirator and his son Karti Chidambaram. He said that other accused in the case, including Karti, have already been granted bail or interim protection by the courts and it would be "manifestly unjust and illegal" to deny him the relief.
He has urged the apex court to grant him interim bail till his appeal is decided. In its verdict, the high court had said it cannot be disputed that if the case is proved against Chidambaram, the offence is on society, economy, financial stability and integrity of the country.
Chidambaram is not a "flight risk" and there is no chance of tampering with evidence but he can influence the witnesses if granted bail, it had said. The high court had said it was on record that illegal gratification has been paid by and through other companies by Indrani and Peter to the firms controlled and owned by the "co-conspirator and co-accused Karti".