In CBI custody, Chidambaram gets SC's interim protection from arrest by ED till Monday

(Eds: combining related stories) New Delhi, Aug 23 (PTI) The Supreme Court on Friday protected former union finance minister P Chidambaram from arrest by the ED till August 26 in a money laundering case in INX media scam, an order that will have little effect since the Congress leader is in CBI custody till Monday in a related corruption case. During arguments on Chidambaram's multiple petitions, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) alleged he had asked the then promoters of INX Media Group, Peter and Indrani Mukherjea, to "take care of his son" when they met him for approval from the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB). The ED also alleged that during the investigations it found Chidambaram had 11 "immovable properties" and 17 bank accounts abroad, adding his custodial interrogation was required to unearth the larger conspiracy in the case. The "most surprising thing" found during the probe was that persons on whose names shell companies were created had executed a will in the name of Chidambaram's grand daughter, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the ED, claimed. Chidambaram's lawyers countered the claims of ED and told a bench of Justices R Banumathi and A S Bopanna that he has cooperated with the agency during the investigation and there was no need for any custodial interrogation. Chidambaram, along with his son Karti, is accused in a case lodged by the Central Bureau of Investigation(CBI) on May 15, 2017 alleging irregularities in FIPB clearance granted to INX Media group for receiving overseas funds of Rs 305 crore in 2007 during his tenure as the finance minister. Thereafter, ED lodged a money laundering case. The court said it will hear on August 26 the pleas filed by Chidambaram in which he has challenged the August 20 order of the Delhi High Court by which anticipatory bail pleas was rejected in the ED and CBI cases. The bench said it would hear a fresh plea filed by the Congress leader challenging Thursday's order of remand passed by trial Court by which he was sent to CBI's custody till August 26. "...In our view, having regard to the fact that the petitioner was also granted interim protection on July 25 and that the co-accused were also granted bail by the High Court, the petitioner is granted interim protection, insofar as the Enforcement Directorate case is concerned...till the next date of hearing. List the matter on August 26," the bench said. The CBI, meanwhile, has sent Letter Rogatory(LR), or judicial requests, to five countries seeking details of alleged payment trail in the INX media case, sources said. They said the LRs, or judicial requests seeking information from foreign countries, have been sent to the United Kingdom, Mauritius, Switzerland, Bermuda and Singapore, they said. The CBI is investigating the payment trails of several companies abroad and the requested information is required in order to trace such investments , they said. Chidambaram's wife Nalini and Karti visited him at the guest house in suite number 5 on the ground floor of CBI headquarters, a facility which was allowed by the trial court while remanding him to four-day custody. The hearing in the apex court witnessed several rounds of heated exchanges between Mehta and senior advocates Kapil Sibal and A M Singhvi, who are also Chidambaram's party colleagues. Mehta vehemently opposed the order granting protection from arrest to Chidambaram in the money laundering case and said the ED "has collected innumerable evidence to show that the money has been transferred from one company to another shell company". He alleged that Chidambaram has amassed 11 properties outside the country, 17 bank accounts not only in India but abroad and the money was transferred through a web of shell companies. Mehta said a lot of "hue and cry" and "political vendetta" is alleged by petitioner (Chidambaram) and his party colleagues but "I am saying with a great sense of responsibility that this is a case of money laundering of a monumental magnitude". He said custodial interrogation of Chidambaram was needed to unravel the truth and claimed that while being union finance minister he had asked Indrani and Peter Mukherjea to "take care of his son" when she had met with him in 2007 regarding the FIPB approval for INX media. Mehta said they need to confront Chidambaram with the evidences collected so far including some e-mail and money transaction, as several persons, who have created the shell companies have executed a will in the name of Chidambaram's grand daughter. Mehta said Chidambaram has been evasive in his replies, refused to divulge anything and has not cooperated in the probe. At the outset, Sibal said it is a violation of his fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution that his petition challenging the high court order was not heard on Wednesday by the apex court on July 20 and 21 and he was arrested on the same night. "My rights under Article 21 cannot be frustrated", he said and added that the high court, while rejecting the anticipatory bail plea, had taken on record a note submitted by the ED, which was not even argued. "Word by word, comma for comma and full stop for full stop, even adjectives were copied as it was in the note and para-wise noting was done," Sibal said, adding that if the courts are going to copy-paste from a note of probe agencies then how will common people protect themselves. Singhvi said n the anticipatory bail rejection order of the ED case, the high court should not have made observations on Aircel-Maxis cases. A Delhi court, meanwhile, extended interim protection from arrest to Chidambaram and his son Karti in Aircel-Maxis cases, filed by the CBI and ED, till September 3 while reserving order till then on their anticipatory bail plea. The cases related to alleged irregularities in grant of FIPB approval in the Rs 3,500-crore Aircel-Maxis deal when Chidambaram was the finance minister.PTI MNL ABA RKS UK SA ABS GSN GSNGSN