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INX Media case: CBI opposes Chidambaram's bail plea in SC, says he tried to influence witnesses

PTI     October 16, 2019

(Eds: Adding details from hearing) New Delhi, Oct 16 (PTI) The CBI told the Supreme Court Wednesday that former finance minister P Chidambaram, arrested in the INX Media corruption case, had tried to "pressurise and influence" key witnesses in the past and a "strong prima facie" case has been made against him. Opposing the plea filed by the senior Congress leader seeking bail in the case, the CBI told a bench headed by Justice R Banumathi that they have "cogent material" about how Chidambaram had tried to influence witnesses. It further said that the impunity with which he had abused the high office of finance minister for "personal gains" disentitles him from getting the relief. Additional Solicitor General (ASG) K M Nataraj, appearing for the CBI, read out the relevant portions of counter affidavit filed by the agency and said that Chidambaram's plea was devoid of merits and no case has been made out by him for grant of bail. Chidambaram, 74, has sought bail from the apex court saying that the CBI wants to keep him in jail to "humiliate him". Senior advocates Kapil Sibal and A M Singhvi, representing Chidambaram, had Tuesday argued in the court that he has been in custody for 55 days and there were no allegations against the former finance minister or his family members of having ever tried to approach or influence any witness in the case. Chidambaram was arrested by the CBI on August 21 and is lodged in Tihar jail under judicial custody in the corruption case. On Wednesday, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) arrested him in connection with a related money-laundering case. The CBI had registered an FIR 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 the finance minister. Thereafter, the ED had lodged a money laundering case in this regard in 2017. At the outset, Natraj requested the bench, also comprising justices A S Bopanna and Hrishikesh Roy, to adjourn the matter for Friday. The ASG said that Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who would argue on behalf of CBI, was "on his legs" before a constitution bench and no prejudice would be caused to Chidambaram as the ED has arrested him. "That is not our concern. You argue the matter. You take us through the counter affidavit filed by CBI. We will hear the solicitor general also," the bench told Natraj. When the ASG said "piecemeal argument" could be avoided, the bench said, "We are happy with piecemeal arguments. You take us through your counter affidavit". Thereafter, Natraj started reading out the relevant portion of the counter affidavit and said there is every likelihood of justice being thwarted if Chidambaram is released on bail. "An attempt to influence key witnesses of the case to retract from their statements have already been made by the accused/petitioner," the CBI has said in its affidavit. "If enlarged on bail, it is the bona fide belief of the respondent CBI that another attempt would be made by the petitioner/accused through indirect means to influence the witnesses so as to thwart the course of justice," the CBI claimed in the affidavit. It further said, "The nature of the offence, the brazenness and the impunity with which the high office of the finance minister of the country was abused by the petitioner/accused (Chidambaram) for personal gains again disentitles him from seeking bail." Natraj said there was no "change in circumstances" warranting any disturbance in the Delhi High Court's September 30 verdict denying him bail in the case. When the ASG read out the portion of counter affidavit regarding documents in sealed cover, the bench said, "We do not want any sealed cover". Natraj, while referring to the high court verdict, said it was rightly held that there was a possibility of influencing the witnesses if Chidambaram was released on bail. The arguments in the case would continue on October 18 when Mehta would advance his submissions on behalf of CBI. In its counter affidavit, the CBI has alleged that if released on bail, Chidambaram "poses a real and apparent danger of absconding or fleeing". Chidambaram has challenged the high court's September 30 verdict dismissing his plea seeking bail in the case. PTI ABA SA


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