HC denies bail to Chidambaram in INX Media money laundering case, says he played key role

NEW DELHI: The Delhi High Court Friday denied bail to former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram in the INX Media money laundering case filed by the ED, saying prima facie allegations against him are serious in nature and he played active and key role in the offence.

Justice Suresh Kait said that wrong message will be sent to the society if bail is granted to Chidambaram in this case. “I am not inclined to grant bail,” Justice Kait said. While pronouncing the verdict, he said the material collected by the ED in the money laundering case is distinct, different and independent with that collected by the CBI in the corruption case.

Even the investigation done in this case is different from the CBI’s case, the court said, adding that in cases of economic offences, the entire community gets affected. “I am conscious that bail is rule and jail is exception but a wrong message would be sent to the society, if bail is granted in this case,” the judge said. The high court had reserved the order on November 8 on the bail petition after hearing the arguments of counsel for Chidambaram and the Enforcement Directorate (ED).

The ED had arrested him in the money laundering case on October 16 and presently he is in judicial custody till November 27 under the order of a trial court. Chidambaram was arrested by the CBI on August 21 in the INX Media corruption case and was granted bail by the Supreme Court on October 22.

The case was registered by the CBI 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.

Thereafter, the ED had lodged a money-laundering case in this regard in 2017. The 74-year-old senior Congress leader had sought bail saying as the evidence is documentary and in the custody of probe agencies, he cannot tamper them and the ED had opposed his plea on the ground that he has tried to influence and threaten witnesses.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the ED, had contended that the set of evidence in the money laundering case and the CBI corruption case is different and the PMLA case is more heinous and “much, much, much more serious than it meets the eyes”.  
“It is the gravest of grave offence as it is an economic offence which is a standalone offence,” he had argued.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Chidambaram, had said since the beginning, the probe agency’s case was never that the Congress leader tried to influence witnesses, but suddenly in October, when he was in custody, it was alleged that he had tried to put pressure and influence key witnesses.

Chidambaram had denied the ED’s claim that he used the office of finance minister for personal gains and laundered the proceeds of crime, saying no material directly or indirectly linking him with the alleged offence has been put to him so far or placed before the court. The purpose of ED’s opposition to grant of bail is not to advance the cause of justice but to harm his health which has already suffered severe damage after 75 days of custody since August 21, he had said.

Chidambaram had referred to the Supreme Court’s October 22 order granting him bail in the CBI case and said it has stated there was no evidence of tampering, flight risk and influencing witnesses against him in the corruption case. The senior Congress leader is lodged in Tihar Jail under judicial custody in the ED’s money-laundering case.

On November 1, the high court while disposing of the interim bail plea of Chidambaram, who was suffering from Crohn’s disease, had directed the Tihar Jail superintendent to provide him clean and hygienic surroundings and also mineral water, home cooked food and mosquito protection nets and repellant.

He had sought anticipatory bail in the money laundering case from the high court which dismissed the plea. The decision was challenged in the Supreme Court which also refused to grant him relief.

The ED had arrested him in the money laundering case on October 16. He was arrested by the CBI on August 21 in the INX Media corruption case. PTI