Congress leader P Chidambaram was on Wednesday set to walk out of jail after 105 days in custody with the Supreme Court giving him bail in a money laundering case connected to INX Media and directing that he can't leave the country without its permission.
Granting Chidambaram bail -- a move that led to inevitable political ripples with the Congress welcoming it as truth prevailing at last and the BJP deriding the party for "celebrating corruption" -- the apex court also said Chidambaran could not speak to the media and should neither try to influence witnesses nor tamper with evidence.
Setting aside the Delhi High Court November 15 verdict denying the former Union finance minister bail, a three-judge bench, headed by Justice R Banumathi, granted the relief to the 74-year-old Congress leader on a personal bond of Rs 2 lakh with two sureties of the like amount.
The bench, also comprising Justices A S Bopanna and Hrishikesh Roy, restrained Chidambaram from giving any press interview or making any statements with regard to the case.
The top court, which observed that economic offences are grave in nature, said "grant of bail is rule and refusal is exception".
It said the Enforcement Directorate's claim that he can tamper with evidence cannot be accepted on "face value" as he is neither in political power nor holds any post in the government.
Chidambaram would have to join further investigations if asked by the probe agency, it said.
The former minister has been in custody since August 21 when he was arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in the INX Media corruption case. On October 16, the ED arrested him in the money laundering case. Six days later, on October 22, the apex court granted him bail in the case lodged by the CBI.
The CBI had registered its case on May 15, 2017, alleging irregularities in a Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance granted to the INX Media group for receiving overseas funds of Rs 305 crore in 2007 during Chidambaram's tenure as finance minister. The ED lodged a money laundering case after that.
News that its senior leader would finally be returning home led to relief in the Congress camp but also triggered a political row with the BJP.
"Truth finally prevails #SatyamevaJayate," the party tweeted from its official handle.
Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi said Chidambaram's incarceration was "vengeful and vindictive".
"I'm glad that the SC has granted him bail. I'm confident that he will be able to prove his innocence in a fair trial," Gandhi said in a tweet.
Chidambaram's lawyer and Congress colleague Abhishek Manu Singhvi described the Supreme Court ruling as "excellent light after a rather long tunnel". He termed the order "balanced", "nuanced" and "comprehensive" and in favour of human rights and balanced jurisprudence.
Senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor was more circumspect and said "justice delayed is justice denied". The bail should have been granted much earlier, he said.
Chidambaram's son Karti Chidambaram let out a sigh of relief.
"Phew. At last after 106 days," he said on Twitter.
The BJP, however, was unsparing in its criticism of the opposition party and brought in leaders such as Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi in its response.
"Classic case of @INCIndia 'Celebrating Corruption'!!
"So finally Chidambaram too joins the long list of OOBC(Out On Bail Club) in the Congress ..He joins the coveted Club,some members of which are:1)Sonia Gandhi 2)Rahul Gandhi 3)Robert Vadra 4)Motilal Vohra 5)Bhupinder Hooda 6)Sashi Tharoor Etc Etc," BJP national spokesperson Sambit Patra said on Twitter.
The Supreme Court bench said it was initially not inclined to open the sealed cover material placed before it by the ED. But since the high court had perused the material, it was imperative for the top court to go through the documents, it said.
After pronouncing the verdict, it directed the apex court registry to return the sealed cover material back to the ED.
Making clear that its order would not be construed to be the findings on merits of the case, the court said Chidambaram's alleged complicity would be examined during the trial.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)