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CBI arrests Chidambaram in connection with INX case

The senior Congress leader made a dramatic appearance at a press conference in the Congress HQ earlier today.

ET Bureau|
Updated: Aug 22, 2019, 06.35 AM IST
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PTI
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In pic: CBI officials arrest P Chidambaram from his Jor Bagh residence in New Delhi.
NEW DELHI: Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram was arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in the INX Media corruption and money laundering case from his residence late Wednesday evening, hours after the Supreme Court refused to grant immediate hearing on his plea for interim protection from arrest and listed the matter for Friday.

The CBI, which obtained an arrest warrant from a local court and took Chidambaram to its headquarters after dramatic scenes of its team scaling the walls of his Jor Bagh residence unfolded on television screens, plans to produce the former finance minister before a local court on Thursday and seek his custodial interrogation, said people aware of the matter. The Enforcement Directorate will later seek his custody, they said.

Chidambaram was arrested after he appeared at the Congress headquarters and addressed the media, proclaiming his innocence and rejecting allegations of evading investigating agencies.

Was Busy with Lawyers: PC
Teams of the CBI and ED had failed to trace him for more than 24 hours and had issued look-out circulars to prevent him from fleeing the country.

Calling upon the probe agencies to wait until the Supreme Court hears his plea, Chidambaram said, “I shall respect the law even if it is applied with an unequal hand by the investigating agencies. In the name of freedom, I can only hope and pray that the investigating agencies will also respect the law. In the present circumstances, respect for the law can mean only one thing — await the decision of the Hon’ble Supreme Court on Friday.”

He refuted reports that he had gone missing and said he was busy with his lawyers throughout Tuesday night and till Wednesday evening, working on his defence. “I was aghast that I was accused of hiding from the law. All we wanted is a hearing. Nobody is running away… I was accused of running away from justice when I was actually in active pursuit of justice,” he said.

Chidambaram faces allegations of irregularities in granting Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance to INX Media for receiving Rs 305 crore from overseas in 2007 during his tenure as finance minister in the erstwhile Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government.

The CBI has alleged that the money was transferred to companies controlled by Chidambaram’s son Karti and that the FIPB clearance was granted on Karti’s intervention. The father-son duo also faces charges in the Aircel-Maxis case.

Chidambaram had approached the apex court after the Delhi High Court rejected his anticipatory bail petition in the INX Media case on Tuesday, saying that prima facie he appeared to be the “kingpin” of the alleged scam. Failing to find him, the CBI had pasted summons at his residence on Tuesday night, asking him to join investigation in the INX Media case, while the ED had earlier summoned him for questioning on Friday in an alleged scam pertaining to purchase of 111 aircraft for Air India.

‘No chargesheet’
At the Congress headquarters on Wednesday evening, with senior leaders including Ahmed Patel, Ghulam Nabi Azad and senior advocates Kapil Sibal and Abhishek Manu Singhvi by his side, Chidambaram said, “In the INX Media case, I have not been accused of any offence. Nor has anyone else, including any member of my family, been accused of any offence. In fact, there is no chargesheet filed by either the CBI or ED before a competent court.”

“Moreover, the FIR (first information report) recorded by the CBI does not impute to me any wrongdoing. Yet, there is a widespread impression that grave offences have been committed and my son and I have committed those offences. Nothing can be further from the truth. These are lies spread by pathological liars,” he said.

People with direct knowledge of the matter, however, told ET that besides the INX Media case, Chidambaram is likely to be confronted with nearly half a dozen other cases in which approvals for foreign investments were allegedly granted in violation of norms by the then FIPB.

In the INX Media case, they said, Chidambaram is likely to be confronted with accused-turned-approver Indrani Mukerjea, who claims that kickbacks were paid to Chidambaram and his son Karti.

SC plea infructuous
With Chidambaram’s arrest, his anticipatory bail in the Supreme Court would be rendered infructuous, the people said. While addressing the media, Chidambaram stressed on the importance of liberty in democracy, saying, “I believe that the foundation of a democracy is liberty. The most precious Article of the Constitution of India is Article 21 that guarantees life and liberty. If I am asked to choose between life and liberty, I shall unhesitatingly choose liberty.”

He also sent out a subtle message to the courts and judges when he said, “Some days ago, when I spoke in Parliament, I had said that every judge in this country will uphold the liberty of a citizen. I had said that the collective conscience and the institutional memory of the court, as a venerable institution, will guide all judges of the country. As much as I believe in liberty, I also believe in the wisdom of our judges.”

Earlier in the day, the Supreme Court rejected repeated requests for an immediate hearing on Chidambaram’s plea despite an offer, through his counsel Kapil Sibal, of an undertaking that he would not leave the country.

Arguing on behalf of the 73-year-old leader, who served as minister of finance and home in the UPA government and has been a member of the Rajya Sabha since July 2016, Sibal said, “Am I running away?” He told a three-member bench led by Justice NV Ramana, “I had protection in the CBI case from May 2018 and in the ED case from July 2018.”

However, solicitor general Tushar Mehta, the counsel for the CBI and ED, strongly opposed the plea for interim protection and termed the alleged INX Media scam a case of “monumental money laundering”.

Justice Ramana, with Justices Mohan M Shantanagouder and Ajay Rastogi sitting alongside him, said that there could be no immediate hearing of the petition without Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi formally listing the case before him.

In his petition filed in court, Chidambaram alleged political vendetta behind the CBI and ED move to charge him in the case. He argued that investigation in the case was complete and that he had joined the investigation when he was asked. He said that the CBI and ED had no grounds to oppose his bail or seek his custody.

The CBI had filed a case against him and his son Karti in 2017 in connection with the 2007 FIPB clearance granted to INX Media. The CBI has alleged that the deal was cleared after bribe was paid to a company linked with Karti. It has charged the father-son duo with criminal conspiracy under the Indian Penal Code and various Sections of the Prevention of Corruption Act. The ED later added charges under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.
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