CBI court sends P Chidambaram to custody till August 26 in INX media case

Former finance minister P Chidambaram being taken to court by CBI officials, in New Delhi on Thursday | photo: pti
A special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court on Thursday sent former finance minister P Chidambaram to the agency’s custody for four days in the case related to alleged discrepancies in Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) approvals for INX Media’s proposals.

Chidambaram will be in CBI custody till August 26, when he will be produced again before court, the lower court judge said. 

After a hearing that lasted nearly two hours, the special CBI judge ordered the former union minister be medically examined every 48 hours while in custody. Family members as well as Chidambaram’s counsel have also been allowed to meet him daily for 30 minutes, the court said in its order.

“It is impressed upon the investigating agency that it will ensure that the personal dignity of the accused is not violated in any manner,” the court said.

On Wednesday evening, Chidambaram surfaced at the Congress headquarters to address the media after a day of courtroom drama and claims by probe agencies that he was evading arrest.

Nearly one and a half hours later, the former union minister was arrested by the probe agency from his south Delhi residence.

After his arrest, the CBI took him to its headquarters here in the city. Chidambaram did not cooperate with officers during his questioning in the INX Media group case, and initially avoided talking to them despite several attempts, said a CBI official privy to the development.

“He was essentially quizzed over foreign investment approvals given to INX Media, and to the questions he gave evasive answers,” the official said, adding that the stand taken by Chidambaram in his replies “is in gross contradiction to the stand taken by other accused and witnesses in the matter”.

Chidambaram was produced before the special CBI court at nearly 3 pm on Thursday, when a courtroom packed with advocates, media persons, and law interns awaited him. The former finance minister, with a wide smile on his face, stopped to greet the people waiting outside the courtroom before being escorted in.

During the hearing on Thursday, the probe agency, represented by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, sought a five-day remand for Chidambaram, and said custodial interrogation of the former union minister was required to confront him with all the relevant documents.

Further, Mehta submitted, though he had the right to remain evasive and not answer questions, it amounted to non-cooperation with probe agencies.

Though Chidambaram had joined the probe when called by the CBI in July last year, he did not yet submit the documents that were then sought, Mehta told the court.

“A serious and active…informed role of the accused (Chidambaram) is made out from the case diary...there is a money trail that needs to be probed into,” Mehta, appearing for the CBI, told the court.

Senior advocates Kapil Sibal and Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for Chidambaram, while opposing the remand, said all the other accused people in the case were out on bail and that the case was based only on documentary evidence. The supposed FIPB approval, which the CBI claims was done illegally, Sibal said, was only endorsed by Chidambaram during his tenure as finance minister, because it had been approved by six other secretaries to the government of India.

Sibal said the CBI called Chidambaram for interrogation only once and since then there had been no developments in the case. There was thus no question of him not cooperating with the probe agencies, Sibal told the court.

A little while later, despite protests from the solicitor general, the court also allowed Chidambaram to make a statement. In his statement, Chidambaram said he had answered all the questions of the court, and there remained nothing more that he could say.

“Please ask for the transcript which was in question-answer form. There is no question which has not been answered. The allegation of Rs 5 million (Rs 50 lakh) …they were never put to me… only asked me if I have a foreign bank account. I said ‘No’,” the former finance minister said.

The CBI is also likely to question Chidambaram about his son Karti Chidambaram’s role in the matter, and could be confronted with the statement given by INX founder Indrani Mukerjea, said sources close to the development.

Mukerjea recently had made disclosures under Section 50 of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, and said that, she along with her husband, Peter Mukerjea, met Chidambaram, and the former union minister asked them to transfer a certain amount as a bribe to his overseas account for facilitating foreign investment clearance.

The CBI is trying to ascertain the trail of payments in several companies abroad linked to FIPB clearances made to five companies, besides INX. The probe conducted by agencies so far has revealed “illegal payoffs” made to Chidambaram and other shell firms floated by Karti Chidambaram, where he is also the beneficial owner. The CBI has also issued Letter Rogatory (LR) to its foreign counterparts in Malaysia, the UK, Spain, and two more countries, seeking judicial assistance about the money parked in shell firms owned by Karti, sources quoted above said. 

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