Curtains for Chidambaram?
It is well known that in the INX Media case, the company’s promoters – Peter and Indrani Mukerjea who are now in jail for allegedly killing Indrani’s daughter from an earlier marriage had allegedly approached Chidambaram to get foreign investment clearances. Indrani turned approver in this case and gave a testimony against Chidambaram which largely form the basis of the CBI case against him. Founded in 2006 by the Mukerjeas, INX Media made an application seeking clearance to a foreign investment proposal on March 13, 2007. The application was made to the Chairman of the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) which was an erstwhile inter-ministerial body that was responsible for processing FDI proposals.
It is really astonishing to learn that the former Finance Minister of India who is also an eminent and senior Supreme Court lawyer –P Chidambaram has been refused anticipatory bail by the Delhi High Court just recently in INX Media Scam Case pertaining to corruption and money laundering! What is even more astonishing is that this has happened notwithstanding that P Chidambaram was represented by a battery of senior and eminent lawyers led by stalwarts like Kapil Sibal and Abhishek Manu Singhvi! What is most astonishing is that Justice Sunil Gaur who authored the latest judgment delivered by the Delhi High Court in the case titled P Chidambaram Vs Central Bureau Of Investigation in Bail Appln. 1316/2018 & Cri. M.A. 10976/2018 And Bail Appln. 1713/2018 & Cri. M.(B) 1163/2018 in P Chidambaram Vs Directorate Of Enforcement, Delhi has minced just no words to observe that this was a “classic case of money laundering”. He also said point blank that facts of the case reveal that the petitioner is the king pin or the key conspirator.
Be it noted, just a day after the Delhi High Court denied P Chidambaram’s plea for anticipatory bail in two cases of alleged corruption and money laundering linked to INX Media, he also failed to get a respite from the Supreme Court despite the urgency cited by his lawyers and his legal team comprising of senior advocates Kapil Sibal, Vivek Tankha, Salman Khurshid and others to take up his petition for interim bail before a Supreme Court Bench of Justices NV Ramana, Mohan M Shantanagoudar and Ajay Rastogi in Court No. 3. Even as the CBI and ED issued separate lookout notices for him who remained missing – Chidambaram’s counsel was informed by the Supreme Court Registrar that the plea had been listed for Friday. Congress party chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala while talking about Supreme Court’s refusal to accede to Chidambaram’s plea for an urgent hearing said that in his years as a practising lawyer, he had never seen “technicalities in the Supreme Court registry coming in the way of fundamental rights”. He questioned that, “Can a small technicality prevent the honourable Supreme Court, whom every citizen respects and looks upto, refuse to even hear cases.”
It may be recalled that on May 15, 2017, the CBI registered an FIR alleging irregularities in the FIPB clearance for INX Media to receive overseas funds of Rs 305 crore in 2007 during Chidambaram’s tenure as Finance Minister in the UPA government. In 2018, the ED lodged a money laundering case. In its submissions, the CBI alleged that Indrani and Peter Mukerjea had made a payment of $5 million and $4.50 lakh to Mr Chidambaram in 2007-08 and 2008-09, respectively, for settling issues related to violation of the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) by their former companies, INX Media and INX News. Sibal and Singhvi argued that the FIPB approval to INX Media was given by six Secretary-level officers but no action had been taken against them.
While countering the defence allegations, the Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta said that the former Minister needed to be questioned on the money trail, alleging that he had played a key role. Mehta said that the CBI had to interrogate Mr Chidambaram in custody as he was non cooperative and evasive in replies in the corruption case of monumental magnitude and the agency was not extorting his confession. The court has allowed Mr Chidambaram’s family and lawyers to meet him for half an hour every day during his custody.
We also saw how a Delhi court allowed the CBI to take Chidambaram into its custody for four days in connection with its probe into the alleged corruption in the INX Media case. Special Judge Ajay Kumar Kuhar while remanding him in custody till August 26 said in a 10-page order that, “It is impressed upon the investigating agencies to ensure that the personal dignity of the accused is not violated in any manner. Considering all the facts and circumstances of the case as brought to the notice of the court, I am of the view that police custody remand of accused P Chidambaram is justified.” He also made it clear that, “The allegations made against accused are serious in nature and there cannot be a dispute with the fact that a detailed and in-depth investigation is required in the present case.”
It is well known that in the INX Media case, the company’s promoters – Peter and Indrani Mukerjea who are now in jail for allegedly killing Indrani’s daughter from an earlier marriage had allegedly approached Chidambaram to get foreign investment clearances. Indrani turned approver in this case and gave a testimony against Chidambaram which largely form the basis of the CBI case against him. Founded in 2006 by the Mukerjeas, INX Media made an application seeking clearance to a foreign investment proposal on March 13, 2007. The application was made to the Chairman of the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) which was an erstwhile inter-ministerial body that was responsible for processing FDI proposals. It was chaired by the Economic Affairs Secretary and had other permanent members including the Secretaries of the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, Commerce, Economic Relations in the Ministry of External Affairs and Overseas Indian Affairs.
Be it noted, the company had proposed to get FDI worth Rs 4.62 crore, which was cleared by the FIPB with an approval from then Finance Minister Chidambaram. But in violation of the conditions, the company got Rs 305 crore with a premium of Rs 800 per share. This ostensibly created suspicion which prompted the Income tax (IT) department to issue a letter to the FIPB demanding a probe into the matter. To wriggle out of this crisis, the company entered into a criminal conspiracy with Karti Chidamabram who is the minister’s son and the promoter of Chess Management to get the issue addressed amicably by influencing public servants in the FIPB, according to an FIR filed by the CBI.
What followed next was that INX Media was advised by the FIPB to file a fresh application for the downstream investment already made in the company. CBI alleged that the request of the IT department to probe the matter was also scuttled and the Finance Ministry not only granted fresh proposals, but also “misinformed the investigation” being conducted by the IT department. It has further alleged that an amount of Rs 10 lakh was paid to Advantage Strategic for management consultancy charge towards the FIPB notification and clarification. The company also generated invoices of Rs 3.5 crore towards INX Media.
Truth be told, according to CBI, Advantage Strategic is indirectly controlled by Karti, which has been strongly denied by him and his father. It is also alleged that INX Media promoters Indrani Mukherjea and Peter paid $5 million and $4,50,000 US dollar to Chidambaram in 2007-08 and 2008-09, respectively for settling the issues relating to violation of FEMA. Special Judge Ajay Kumar Kuhar went on to say that allegations of payment being made to the accused in the year 2007-08 and 2008-09 are specific and categorical. In his order, he further said that, “The trail of this money, if so paid, is to be ascertained. No doubt it is a case, to a large extent based on documentary evidence, but those documents need to be traced and their value and their worth for the purpose of the investigation in this case is to be ascertained.”
On his part, Chidambaram said that neither he nor any member of his family had been made an accused in the INX Media case. He said no chargesheet had been filed in the case and the FIR by the CBI did not impute any wrongdoing by him. He said that he will respect the law even if it is applied with an “unequal hand” by the investigating agencies.
In conclusion, it may well be said that it is a big setback for P Chidambaram as Delhi High Court has not just declined his bail plea but also has not hesitated in bluntly saying that facts of the case prima facie reveal that the petitioner is the king pin or the key conspirator. It is because of this adverse order that CBI proceeded ahead to arrest him from his house. Not just this, even the Special CBI Court after hearing both the sides gave the custody of P Chidambaram to CBI for four days till August 26. But P Chidambaram who has also appealed in the Supreme Court is still hoping to get some respite from it. Let’s wait and see what happens finally! But one thing is for sure: P Chidambaram who is a former Finance Minister as also former Home Minister has handled many important portfolios in the UPA regime is facing troubled waters which he has never faced before but he is also determined to not give up so easily! Many top and eminent lawyers of the Supreme Court like Kapil Sibal, Abhishek Manu Singhvi and others are defending him with full gusto and he himself is a senior lawyer of Supreme Court and certainly he won’t allow his legal acumen to not be fully utilized in his own case! This is certainly the toughest challenge of his high-profile life that he has faced till now as odds are heavily stacked against him and his son Karti! Only time will tell what happens finally in his case! We have to keep our fingers crossed till then!