Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram was unable to get immediate relief from the Supreme Court on Wednesday as his plea seeking pre-arrest bail was referred to Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi. A three-judge bench headed by Justice NV Ramana heard the Special Leave Petition (SLP) filed by the former finance minister against the Delhi High Court order which dismissed his anticipatory bail plea in the alleged INX media scam. Meanwhile, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) has issued a fresh look out circular against P Chidambaram in connection with the INX Media money laundering case, officials said on Wednesday.
According to ANI report, Justice Ramana sent the file of P Chidambaram’s plea to Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi to pass the order. CJI Gogoi, however, had commenced hearing in the Ayodhya dispute case due to which Chidambaram’s counsel Kapil Sibal was unable to mention the matter before him for urgent hearing. The SLP was filed by the former finance minister against the high court order which dismissed his anticipatory bail plea in cases filed by the CBI and the ED related to the alleged INX Media scam. “That if the present SLP is not taken up on urgent basis then the sole purpose of filing the present SLP will become infructuous. Therefore, it is desirable in the interest of justice that during the pendency of the proceedings before this Court, the interim relief as prayed for herein be granted or else the Petitioner shall suffer irreparable loss,” read the petition. The petition said that the High Court’s order is “manifestly contrary to law” and is “unjust”.
“The interim protection was granted by the High Court on May 31, 2018 and continued until August 20, 2019. Arguments were heard on the Bail Application and judgment reserved on January 25, 2019; and nearly 7 months later the Bail Application was rejected,” it said. Lawyers said that Chidambaram was summoned only once on June 6, 2019 in the FIR filed by the CBI. He had duly appeared and answered all questions, and no summons was issued thereafter, they said.
“The FIR mentioned Section 8 and Section 13(1)(d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act and Section 420 and 120B of the I.P.C. Section 13 of the P.C. Act was repealed and re-enacted w.e.f. 26.07.2018, without any saving clause. Hence, the section cannot be invoked to prosecute the Petitioner in view of the Constitution Bench Judgment reported in Kolhapur Cane sugar Works Limited vs. Union of India, (2000) 2 SCC 536 at Para 37,” the petition read.
“None of the three grounds to deny bail were made out: there is no allegation that the Petitioner is likely to flee justice; or that the Petitioner is likely to influence the witnesses; or that the Petitioner is likely to tamper with the evidence,” it read. Chidambaram said that the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB), which was constituted in order to promote foreign investment in the country, unanimously approved the proposal of INX Media for approval for FDI.
“The Petitioner was the Union Finance Minister during the period 2004-2008. The Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) was constituted in order to promote foreign investment in the country and to grant approval for foreign investment proposals in cases requiring prior approval of the government. FIPB was an empowered body that laid down its procedures and guidelines. The Board consisted of six Secretaries to the Government of India and it was chaired by Secretary, Economic Affairs,” read the petition.
“In 2007, INX Media Pvt. Ltd. (INX Media), an Indian company, applied to the FIPB for approval for FDI up to 46.216 per cent of the issued equity capital of the company. The policy allowed FDI up to 74 per cent of the equity. FIPB unit examined the proposal, found it to be in order and submitted the case to the FIPB. FIPB unanimously approved the proposal and directed that the case be placed before the Finance Minister for approval,” it said.
Chidambaram’s lawyer said that then finance minister granted approval to INX Media’s proposal in the “normal course of official business”. “In May 2007, a bunch of proposals, including the INX Media case, was placed before the Finance Minister. He granted approval in the normal course of official business.”
In 2007, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had registered an FIR alleging irregularities in the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance given to INX Media to the tune of Rs 305 crore in 2007 when Chidambaram was the finance minister. Based on the FIR, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) had filed a Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) case against him.
Chidambaram’s son Karti has also been named in the two cases. He was arrested on February 28, 2018, by the CBI and was later released on bail. The ED had also attached properties belonging to him. On July 4, a Delhi court had allowed Indrani Mukerjea, the former head of the INX Media, to turn an approver in the CBI case. The agency had submitted that it has come across evidence in the form of conversations which only Indrani Mukerjea is privy to and will help consolidate the case.
According to PTI report, ED officials said the alert notice against the Congress leader, whose anticipatory bail was cancelled on Tuesday, has been sent to all land, air and seaports and law enforcement agencies at these facilities. It says the ED should be alerted in case the person is found on their premises. It also asks them to not allow the Congress leader to cross the Indian border without the permission of the ED.
The officials said this is a preventive measure exercised by the agency as Chidambaram’s whereabouts are not known at present and he is required by them to take the probe forward in the INX Media case, being investigated under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).