The Enforcement Directorate (ED) arrested former finance minister P Chidambaram in Tihar Jail on Wednesday in connection with its probe in the INX Media money laundering case as it now prepares to put him through extensive grilling sessions, officials said.
The investigating team followed procedure after a court here on Tuesday had allowed the agency to interrogate the senior Congress leader, lodged in the jail in the Central Bureau of Investigation case, and arrest him, if necessary, in this case, they said.
A three-member team of investigators of the central agency who arrived at the prison at 8.15 am remained in the premises for about two hours during which they briefly questioned 74-year-old Chidambaram after which he was placed under arrest.
The arrest has been made under the provision of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) and his statement was also recorded under this same provision, they said.
The ED subsequently sought 14-day custodial interrogation of the former Union minister from a court in New Delhi.
The Congress MP has been grilled by the ED in this case many times in the past but it had never arrested him as he enjoyed a court-issued order of directing the agency not to take coercive step like arrest against him.
Sources indicated that Chidambaram will now be put through some fresh evidence, obtained from offshore jurisdictions, and confronted with the statement of other accused in the case once his full-time questioning begins, after the grant of custody.
Statements given by the accountant of his son Karti and those of others will be put across to him.
It is understood that the ED investigating officer will seek answers from him regarding certain foreign-based assets linked to the Chidambaram family including those attached by it in the name of Karti.
Last year in October, it had attached assets worth Rs 54 crore of Karti Chidambaram, in India, the United Kingdom and Spain, under the PMLA.
The agency is also working to file its first charge sheet or prosecution compliant in the case and it may include Chidambaram’s forthcoming statements too.
The ED had filed a criminal case under the PMLA in 2017 to probe this deal of alleged irregularities in the grant of FIPB approval to INX Media group. INX Media got its FIPB (foreign investment promotion board) approvals in 2007-08 when Chidambaram was serving as the Union finance minister.
It is alleged that this approval was not legal and agencies have charged Chidambaram with committing corruption and money laundering by taking kickbacks from promoter couple of the media group, Indrani and Peter Mukerjea, through Karti.
The FIPB was scrapped by the Modi government in 2017.
Chidambaram has spent about 55 days in CBI and judicial custody till now after he was arrested on August 21 in this case.
Karti and his mother Nalini also visited the Tihar jail premises this morning.
Talking to reporters outside the jail, Karti reiterated that the investigation in this case was a ‘political vendetta’ and a ‘charade being played out for the vicarious pleasure of few people’.
“I came to meet him (father Chidambaram) as part of my weekly visits… he is in good spirits. Whatever these (probe) procedural games are being played are for political theatrics,” Karti said.
This is a bogus investigation to continue and keep the former Union finance minister and the home minister in some sort of custody, he said.
Karti is also an accused and has been arrested in this case by the CBI in the past.
CBI opposes Chidambaram’s bail plea in SC, says he tried to influence witnesses
The CBI told the Supreme Court on Wednesday that Chidambaram had tried to ‘pressurise and influence’ key witnesses in the past and a ‘strong prima facie’ case has been made against him.
Opposing the plea filed by the senior Congress leader seeking bail in the case, the CBI told a bench headed by Justice R Banumathi that they have ‘cogent material’ about how Chidambaram had tried to influence witnesses.
It further said that the impunity with which he had abused the high office of finance minister for ‘personal gains’ disentitles him from getting the relief.
Additional Solicitor General (ASG) K M Nataraj, appearing for the CBI, read out the relevant portions of counter affidavit filed by the agency and said that Chidambaram’s plea was devoid of merits and no case has been made out by him for grant of bail.
Chidambaram, 74, has sought bail from the apex court saying that the CBI wants to keep him in jail to ‘humiliate him’.
Senior advocates Kapil Sibal and A M Singhvi, representing Chidambaram, had Tuesday argued in the court that he has been in custody for 55 days and there were no allegations against the former finance minister or his family members of having ever tried to approach or influence any witness in the case.
At the outset, Natraj requested the bench, also comprising justices A S Bopanna and Hrishikesh Roy, to adjourn the matter for Friday.
The ASG said that Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who would argue on behalf of CBI, was ‘on his legs’ before a constitution bench and no prejudice would be caused to Chidambaram as the ED has arrested him.
“That is not our concern. You argue the matter. You take us through the counter affidavit filed by CBI. We will hear the solicitor general also,” the bench told Natraj.
When the ASG said ‘piecemeal argument’ could be avoided, the bench said, “We are happy with piecemeal arguments. You take us through your counter affidavit”.
Thereafter, Natraj started reading out the relevant portion of the counter affidavit and said there is every likelihood of justice being thwarted if Chidambaram is released on bail.
“An attempt to influence key witnesses of the case to retract from their statements have already been made by the accused/petitioner,” the CBI has said in its affidavit.
“If enlarged on bail, it is the bona fide belief of the respondent CBI that another attempt would be made by the petitioner/accused through indirect means to influence the witnesses so as to thwart the course of justice,” the CBI claimed in the affidavit.
It further said, “The nature of the offence, the brazenness and the impunity with which the high office of the finance minister of the country was abused by the petitioner/accused (Chidambaram) for personal gains again disentitles him from seeking bail.”
Natraj said there was no ‘change in circumstances’ warranting any disturbance in the Delhi high court’s September 30 verdict denying him bail in the case.
When the ASG read out the portion of counter affidavit regarding documents in sealed cover, the bench said, “We do not want any sealed cover”.
Natraj, while referring to the high court verdict, said it was rightly held that there was a possibility of influencing the witnesses if Chidambaram was released on bail.
The arguments in the case would continue on October 18 when Mehta would advance his submissions on behalf of CBI.
In its counter affidavit, the CBI has alleged that if released on bail, Chidambaram ‘poses a real and apparent danger of absconding or fleeing’.
Chidambaram has challenged the high court’s September 30 verdict dismissing his plea seeking bail in the case.
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