Bail for Chidambaram in INX case and yet no relief; to remain in ED custody

Court says Chidambaram not a flight risk, but asks him not to leave country without prior permission of special court

Chidambaram is unlikely to get any reprieve as he is in the custody of the Enforcement Directorate in a related case
Chidambaram is unlikely to get any reprieve as he is in the custody of the Enforcement Directorate in a related case

The Supreme Court on Tuesday granted bail to former finance minister P Chidambaram in the case filed by Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in the alleged irregularities in the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) approvals for INX Media. The former union minister can be released, provided he is required in any other case, the apex court said.

Asking Chidambaram to be available for interrogation as and when required by the probe agencies, a three-judge Bench of Justices R Banumathi, A S Bopanna, and Hrishikesh Roy said Chidambaram shall deposit his passport with the special court and not leave the country without permission from the Special CBI court.

In a 27-page judgment on Tuesday granting bail, the Bench pulled up the CBI, saying that it could not see as to how Chidambaram was a flight risk. Agreeing with the submissions made by senior advocates Kapil Sibal and Abhishek Manu Singhvi, the court said as the former home minister was a Member of Parliament and a senior member of the Bar, who had strong roots in the society, and as he had already surrendered his passport, there was no possibility of him fleeing away from the country.

The court also said the contention of CBI that ‘flight risk’ of economic offenders should be looked at as a national phenomenon and be dealt with in that manner merely because certain other offenders have flown out of the country, could not be accepted.

“The same cannot, in our view, be put in a straitjacket formula so as to deny bail to the one who is before the court, due to the conduct of other offenders, if the person under consideration is otherwise entitled to bail on the merits of his own case,” the court said.

The judgment also noted that in the remand applications filed by the prosecuting agencies so far, there was no “whisper that any material witness has been approached not to disclose information about the appellant and his son (Karti Chidambaram)”. The court, thus, could not accept the contention that if released, the former Union minister could influence witnesses or tamper with evidence. The former minister, however, is unlikely to get any reprieve as he is in the custody of the Enforcement Directorate in a related case. 

The former finance minister had been arrested by the CBI on August 21 claims by probe agencies that he was evading arrest. That day had, however, culminated with Chidambaram showing up at the Congress headquarters to address the media. Though CBI sleuths had reached Congress headquarters too to arrest him from there, the former minister managed to reach his residence in South Delhi, from where he was arrested later in the night.

Earlier on August 20, a single-judge Bench of the Delhi HC had denied Chidambaram anticipatory bail and protection from immediate arrest in the case. Terming the INX Media case involving Chidambaram a classic “case of money laundering”, the Bench had in its judgment said granting bail in such cases would send a wrong message to the society. The HC had also noted that as the senior Congress leader was evasive in his replies to the probe agencies, custodial interrogation was required for an effective investigation in the matter.

On Tuesday, the SC Bench said the views expressed by the high court in the matter “shall not have any bearing either in the trial or in any other proceedings”.

The CBI and the Directorate of Enforcement (ED) are investigating money-laundering and corruption charges against Chidambaram — and the role of his son Karti — in granting Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearances to the INX Media group and five other companies in 2007, when he was the finance minister. While Karti has been accused of receiving Rs 10 lakh as kickbacks in connection with clearance worth Rs 305 crore for INX Media, Chidambaram has been accused of clearing the proposal at the behest of his son. The CBI has also alleged that Karti had received money from INX Media to scuttle a tax probe.