No evidence against Chidambaram in INX Media case: Sibal tells SC
Senior Congress leader and former finance minister P. Chidambaram on Wednesday said in the Supreme Court that he has been kept in jail 'unfairly' for the last 98 days just because he is the father of Karti, a key accused in the INX Media money-laundering case, and there was not a 'single evidence' linking him to it.
Chidambaram was first arrested by the CBI on August 21 in the INX Media case but was granted bail by the top court on October 22.
The Enforcement Directorate (ED) re-arrested the veteran leader on October 16 in the consequential money-laundering case pertaining to routing of proceeds of crime of the INX Media case.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Chidambaram, assailed the Delhi High Court's November 15 order dismissing the senior Congress leader's bail plea. He told a bench headed by Justice R. Bhanumati that Chidambaram has been 'unfairly kept in custody for last 98 days as the idea is to keep him in jail as long as possible'.
Sibal referred to the high court's verdict and said that though it has been held that Chidambaram was neither a 'flight risk' nor involved in tampering of evidence, nor attempted to influence witnesses, yet he has been denied bail on the ground that the offence was grave and a wrong message would go to the nation if granted relief.
'It has been said (in high court verdict) that a wrong message would go to country if I am released on bail as if I am some kind of criminals like 'Ranga' and 'Billa', My Lord,' Sibal told the bench, which also comprised Justices A. S. Bopanna and Hrishikesh Roy.
Ranga and Billa were convicted in a 1978 kidnapping and murder of two siblings in Delhi; they were sentenced to death and were executed in 1982.
Sibal and senior advocate A. M. Singhvi, appearing for Chidambaram, argued that the ED had alleged that the accused was influencing witnesses when he was in the custody of the probe agency.
'The three witnesses were known to the ED since 2018, then why they were not called for confronting Chiadambaram earlier,' Sibal said, adding 'today is 98th day of my incarceration and yesterday the Constitution Day was celebrated in the country'.
If there is one person against whom there was no evidence in the case, it was Chidambaram, Sibal said, adding that there were no allegations of 'benami payments, benami properties, undisclosed bank accounts, no SMS and no e-mail trails' linking him with the offence.
'I am the only person who is in jail in this case and rest others are out ion bail. I am a kingpin because I am the father of Karti Chidambaram,' Sibal said.
The high court's observations that Chiadambaram was neither a 'flight risk' nor involved in tampering of evidence and nor attempted to influence witnesses have not been challenged by the ED in the apex court, he said.
He said that the total amount involved in the case is Rs 10 lakh as alleged by the ED and nowhere it has been stated that it was part of any of the transactions and yet the bail has been denied on the ground that the offence was grave.
Singhvi referred to Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) and said the gravity of offence can be decided on basis of punishment prescribed for offence and if the maximum jail term for an offence is up to 7 years, then offence is not grave.
'The gravity of offence is not an issue here, the idea is to keep him in jail as long as possible,' Sibal said, adding that the ED did not interrogate Chidambaram and just wanted him to keep him in jail.
Sibal referred to the high court verdict and said it 'verbatim' contained the allegations levelled by the ED in its reply and observations have been made with regard to them as if 'whatever has been alleged is gospel truth'.
'Whatever is said, the ED's counter affidavit in the case, the high court cut pasted them as its findings,' Sibal alleged.
Singhvi referred to the judgments and said that the idea behind granting bail is to ensure that the presence of the accused is secured during the trial and not to punish him before his conviction.
'How can he be kept in jail for 100 days, more so, when it is held that his presence can be secured during trial,' Singhvi said, adding that a person cannot be kept in jail just because the prosecuting agency said the offence was grave.
He said that the case did not involve a terrorist or a serial child molester where the court does not grant bail keeping in mind the gravity of offence.
Both senior counsel for Chidambaram concluded their submissions and solicitor-general Tushra Mehta would commence his arguments on Thursday for ED.
The ED on Tuesday opposed the bail plea of Chidambaram claiming that he used the 'influential office' of finance minister for 'personal gains' and laundered proceeds of crime to conceal 'tainted money'.
In a counter affidavit filed in the apex court on Tuesday, the ED alleged that Chidambaram is not entitled for bail as sufficient evidence has come on record that he has been 'indulging in destruction of evidence' and influencing the witnesses.
Chidambaram, being a former cabinet minister, is 'very intelligent and influential man', the ED had claimed, adding that his mere presence can intimidate witnesses at this stage and there is direct evidence which shows that he has pressurised the witnesses to not join the investigation.
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 the finance minister.
Thereafter, the ED lodged the money-laundering case.