While businessman Karti Chidambaram was on Thursday remanded in CBI custody for five days by special CBI judge Sunil Rana, it emerged that CBI might also soon question Karti’s father, former finance minister P Chidambaram, in the INX Media bribery case. Meanwhile, BJP leader and Chidambaram critic Subramanian Swamy called the court decision the right move.
“Former finance minister P Chidambaram will be summoned to the agency headquarters here and questioned soon. Although he is not named as accused, his role in the grant of irregular FIPB (Foreign Investment Promotion Board) clearance to INX Media is part of the FIR,” a New Indian Express report quoted a senior CBI official supervising the probe as saying.
In the hearing of the INX Media case, the agency accused Karti earlier in the day of being the ‘prime conspirator’ and the ultimate beneficiary in the payoff scandal.
Appearing for Karti Chidambaram in the hearing, lawyer and Congress party member Abhishek Manu Singhvi attacked CBI for relying on the statement of controversial INX media founders Peter and Indrani Mukerjea, the latter in jail as an accused in the murder of her daughter Sheena Bora.
“The police remand of accused Karti Chidambaram is necessary to confront the accused with documents, co-accused and to unearth the larger conspiracy and role of other accused,” Rana said in his order after exchanges stretching for three hours.
In a statement recorded before a magistrate, Indrani Mukerjea claimed that bribe had been paid to Karti Chidambaram for getting the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) to clear INX Media’s plans to get foreign direct investment in spite of irregularities.
According to media reports, questioning the veracity of the statement, Singhvi said: “A person (Indrani) who is accused of killing her own daughter and burying her in the ground makes a confession 10 years later and the CBI arrests him.”
Karti's father, P Chidambaram, and mother Nalini Chidambaram, both senior advocates, were also present in court and seen talking to him.
Following judge Rana’s order, Singhvi sought the supply of home-cooked food and medicines for Karti. The court allowed his lawyer to meet him for one hour every morning and evening. It allowed medicines but denied home food, saying CBI would provide him the best food.
Karti was also allowed to wear his gold chains and rings as he refused to remove them, citing religious reasons.
Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the CBI, said this was not a case of political vendetta and the investigation was in accordance with Article 21 of the Constitution.
"There are very shocking evidences of what Karti did when he went abroad," he said, adding that "when he went abroad, he closed bank accounts in which funds were received".
Mehta also said that Karti did not complain of any uneasiness during the medical check-up on Wednesday, but doctors at the Safdarjung hospital had sent him to the cardiac care unit. He was brought to CBI office only on Thursday morning.
Singhvi contended that in connection with the May 2017 FIR, the CBI had spent roughly 22 hours with Karti in August last year and no fresh summons had been issued to him after August 2017 which showed the agency had nothing more to ask. "The only way of establishing non-cooperation is to issue summons. You never tested non-cooperation. Sudden arrest after six months is bizarre. There is not an iota of evidence against Karti. He is being arrested despite complying with court orders repeatedly." Singhvi said.
Karti had been arrested on Wednesday at the Chennai airport on his return from the United Kingdom in connection with the FIR lodged on May 15 last year alleging irregularities in the FIPB clearance to INX Media for receiving foreign funds to the tune of Rs 3.05 billion in 2007 when P Chidambaram was the union finance minister.
Here are the top 10 developments around Karti Chidambaram's arrest and the INX Media money-laundering case:
1. Karti Chidambaram to be in custody till March 6: On the expiry of the one-day custody of Karti Chidambaram granted to CBI, special CBI judge Sunil Rana remanded Karti to five days in the agency’s custody. This means that the son of the former finance minister will be in custody at least until March 6.
“The police remand of accused Karti Chidambaram is necessary to confront the accused with documents, co-accused and to unearth the larger conspiracy and role of other accused,” Rana said.
While he agreed to the Karti Chidambaram lawyer’s request that he be allowed to get medicines, the CBI judge denied him home-cooked food. “CBI will get him the best food,” said judge Sunil Rana.
Also, when Karti Chidambaram refused to remove some of his gold ornaments, citing religious reasons, he was allowed to continue wearing them while in custody.
2. Karti’s custody needed to unearth larger conspiracy, says CBI court: While allowing custodial interrogation of Karti Chidambaram by the CBI for five days, the special CBI court said there was a need to unearth the larger conspiracy in the INX Media case and his presence would serve some important purposes connected with the investigation.
The court said Karti's CBI custody was necessary to confront him with documents and co-accused, as well as to probe the role of others involved in the case, while the agency maintained that three mobile phones have been recovered from him which needed to be examined.
3. Will be vindicated eventually, says Karti: After he was sent to CBI custody till March 6 in connection with the INX Media money-laundering case, Karti Chidambaram on Thursday said he would be vindicated eventually.
4. Don't worry, I'm there, Chidambaram tells Karti: "Don't worry, I am there," former Finance Minister P Chidambaram told his son Karti when he saw him in the CBI court where he was brought for extension of custody on Thursday in the alleged INX Media bribery case.
The senior Congress leader put his hand on his son's shoulder while his wife Nalini Chidambaram was already in the court looking on.
The lawyer couple were present during the arguments that went on for more than three hours before CBI Judge Sunil Rana.
5. Parents’ presence made Karti calm and relaxed in courtroom: There was no sound bite for media from Karti Chidambaram but he appeared more relaxed and calm in the presence of his parents during the over three-hour-long hearing, after which he was sent to 5-day CBI custody.
Karti was escorted by a posse of CBI sleuths amidst tight security to the courtroom of Special Judge Sunil Rana, where lawyers and media persons were already present.
His mother Nalini Chidambaram, herself a senior advocate, came to the courtroom 15 minutes after Karti entered and had a quick chat with her son when the judge was hearing the bail plea of his Chartered Accountant S Bhaskararaman, who had been arrested by the Enforcement Directorate.
7. ‘Karti’s arrest making Rahul remember his grandmother’: Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Meenakshi Lekhi on Friday took a jibe at Congress President Rahul Gandhi over his surprise visit to grandmother in Italy and said Karti Chidambaram's arrest had made the latter remember his grandmother.
Lekhi took to Twitter and said "Very nice gesture, Karti's arrest ne nani yaad dila di! (Very nice gesture. Karti's arrest has reminded him of his grandmother).
Very nice gesture, Karti’s arrest ने नानी याद दिला दी ! https://t.co/zy3BeFnq9M— Meenakashi Lekhi (@M_Lekhi) March 1, 2018
Lekhi's comment came hours after Congress President wrote on Twitter and informed about his visit to his 93-year-old grandmother in Italy over the Holi weekend.
Rahul's grandmother Paola Maino lives in Italy. Last year too, he celebrated his 47th birthday on June 19 with his grandmother.
8. Modi govt harassing Chidambaram family, claims Congress: The Congress on Thursday said the Narendra Modi government was harassing senior Congress leader P Chidambaram's family but protecting those who fled the country after siphoning off Rs 39,000 crore of public money.
The party said the government was harassing Congress leaders as it was rattled and wanted to divert attention from the unfolding scams.
"Chidambaram ji's family is being harassed to protect the government from the unfolding scams (bank fraud cases) as they are getting rattled with each passing day.
"We had mentioned earlier too that we have total faith in the legal process and ultimately the court will declare them innocent," said Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala.
"The question is -- a person is cooperating in the probe by appearing before the CBI regularly and you arrest him in an 11-year-old case of Rs 10 lakh consultancy fee. We have people who have fled the country after siphoning off Rs 39,000 crore… the 3Ms -- Mehul, (Nirav) Modi and (Jatin) Mehta – you are protecting them. What kind of justice is this (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi ji? The country wants to know," Surjewala said.
The whole purpose of Wednesday's custody was defeated when after Karti's medical examination, the doctor got him shifted to Cardiac Care Unit, CBI told the court. The agency added that it was surprising because Karti did not complain about anything and was fine in morning but gave evasive answers when CBI questioned him.
9. Swamy calls court decision the right one: BJP MP Subramanian Swamy on Friday hailed the court's decision to send Karti Chidambaram to 14-day to CBI custody in the INX media case. Speaking to ANI, Swamy said that the court took the right decision by sending Karti to CBI remand. .
10. Mukerjeas allege P Chidambaram asked them to help in Karti's business: Officials said that Karti was arrested by the CBI on the basis of confessional statements of INX Media Limited directors Peter and Indrani Mukerjea, alleging that they paid $700,000 to him on the instructions of his father P Chidambaram. This alleged payment served as a quid pro quo for an FIPB clearance.
According to officials, the Mukerjeas' statements were recorded by the ED, which is probing the money-laundering angle in the case. The CBI had only recorded Indrani's statement before a magistrate as per section 164 of the CrPC.
Peter and Indrani had alleged that they met the then Finance Minister P Chidambaram at his North Block office, seeking clearance for foreign investments in their media company after the Income Tax department detected irregularities in these instances, in 2007.
Quoting from the Mukerjeas' statements, officials said that the elder Chidambaram had asked them to "help the business of his son and make foreign remittances for the purpose".
The couple also admitted that they subsequently met Karti at a five-star hotel in Delhi, where he allegedly made a demand of $1 million, the officials said. They added that this was reiterated by Indrani before the magistrate as well.
According to the officials, Indrani confirmed in her statement to the CBI and ED that a payment of $700,000 ($7 lakh) was made to the bank accounts of overseas firms linked to Karti.
Peter and Indrani, facing trial for allegedly killing their daughter Sheena Bora, had said in their statement that Karti "suggested" to them the names of firms such as Chess Management and Advantage Strategic for the payments.
As part of the alleged quid pro quo, INX Media had made a payment of over Rs 996,000 (Rs 9.96 lakh) to Advantage Strategic Consulting Private Limited (ASCPL), a firm allegedly controlled by Karti, by a cheque issued on July 15, 2008, the officials said. While the invoice issued by ASCPL claimed that the service rendered by it to INX Media was management consultancy, the "ledger extract" sent by the latter to the probe agencies showed that the payment was made for replying "towards FIPB notification and clarification", they added.
The ED, they said, had seized four invoices of $700,000 ($7 lakh) -- drawn by ASCPL, its Singapore subsidiary, another linked company identified as NorthStar Software Solutions Pvt Ltd, and Geben Trading Ltd -- after it recently raided the offices of Karti and his chartered accountant, Bhaskararaman.
During the raids, the ED had also recovered "digital evidence" and invoices raised on INX Media Limited, sources said. They added that ASCPL had also received payments "on behalf" of Karti in other cases, where money was paid in "proximity to approvals given by the Ministry of Finance", including from Aircel Televentures Limited for an FIPB approval for the sale of its shares in Aircel Limited to Maxis in March 2006.