New Delhi, Aug 23: Former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram got much-needed relief on Friday with the Supreme Court granting him interim protection from arrest till August 26 in the INX Media money laundering case being probed by the Enforcement Directorate (ED).
"We are inclined to continue his interim protection in the Enforcement Directorate. He had interim protection from arrest before as well," a bench headed by Justice R. Banumathi said.
However, Chidambaram will continue to be in custody as the apex court, did not intervene in the CBI case in which he has been sent for custodial interrogation of the agency till August 26.
A bench comprising justices R Banumathi and A S Bopanna posted both the matters for hearing on Monday, August 26.
The hearing witnessed an exchange of words between prosecution counsel and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta and senior advocate and Chidambaram's party colleagues Kapil Sibal and A M Singhvi.
SG Mehta vehemently opposed the order granting protection from arrest to Chidambaram in the money laundering case registered by the ED.
The court also observed that his son Karti Chidambaram, who is co-accused in the case and others were out on bail.
However, the senior Chidambaram will remain in CBI custody till August 26 as the top court did not interfere in that matter.
However, Chidambaram also challenged the trial court order awarding four-day CBI custody during the hearing of the anticipatory bail plea moved by him in two cases connected to INX media.
Both the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the ED case will be listed on Monday before the Supreme Court bench to examine the legality of handing his custody to the agencies concerned.
During the arguments, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said that the agencies have recovered digital evidence establishing e-mail exchanges in connection with money laundering and stashing away of illegitimate money.
"Prime facie it is established that shell companies were created abroad by the people having close association with Chidambaram...these persons also executed a will in the name of the grand-daughter of Chidambaram. We need to investigate and confront him with the piece of information," he said.
Mehta also pointed to the high probability of the will having been destroyed.
Pressing for custodial interrogation in the money laundering case, he also told the court that investigations have revealed that 10 immovable and 17 bank accounts in foreign countries have direct links with Chidambaram. He also said that Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) approval was given under the signature of Chidambaram.
Arguing in favour of custodial interrogation of Chidambaram, Mehta submitted that there are certain individuals who will "never divulge the truth if they are under the protective umbrella of anticipatory bail".
He added that the gravity of the offence has been acknowledged by the Delhi High Court.
At the end of the hearing, Mehta attempted to hand over a sealed envelope, which he claimed, contains crucial evidence to establish Chidambaram's culpability in the case.
The court, however, refused to accept it and listed both matters for hearing on Monday.
The Delhi High Court had, on August 20, dismissed the former Finance Minister's anticipatory bail pleas in both the CBI and the ED cases pertaining to the INX Media money laundering matter.
Chidambaram's counsel and senior advocate Kapil Sibal told the court that former minister was granted interim protection by the High Court on July 25, 2018 and the same had been extended subsequently and continued upto August 20. he also told the court that his client was has all along cooperated with the authority in the investigation.
Countering his argument, Mehta raised strong objection for granting any interim protection to the former minister and submitted that the ED has collected innumerable documents and evidence to show that the money has been transferred from one company to another shell company.
He also claimed that Chidambaram has various properties and various other countries in the name of shell companies and that bank accounts in the banks abroad in the name of shell companies and therefore, his custodial interrogation is necessary for unravelling the truth.
Defending the former minister, Sibal raised the issue of his fundamental right to liberty. He said that the High Court gave the order, after reserving it for seven months, on August 20 and said that he can move an application asking for time, which was also rejected later.
Chidambaram moved the Supreme Court on Wednesday, seeking urgent hearing on his plea challenging the Delhi High Court order, which was not accepted by the apex court.
Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who also appeared for Chidambram, submitted that his client has been denied the opportunity of being heard as against the order refusing anticipatory bail.
Chidambaram was arrested by the CBI later on Wednesday night.
The ED and the CBI are probing how Chidambaram's son Karti Chidambaram managed to get FIPB clearance in 2007 when his father was the Finance Minister. Karti Chidambaram was arrested on February 28, 2018, by the CBI for allegedly accepting money to facilitate the FIPB clearance to INX Media. He was later granted bail.
His chartered accountant, S. Bhaskararaman, was also arrested and released on bail later.
News24 Bureau with Agency inputs
Photo: Google Image