New Delhi: A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court Wednesday granted bail to former finance Minister P. Chidambaram in the Enforcement Directorate charges against him in the INX Media case in which he has been accused of money laundering.
Justices R. Bhanumathi, A.S. Bopanna and Hrishikesh Roy have, however, stated that Chidambaram would not be allowed to interact with the media for interviews or contact any of the witnesses.
After furnishing a bail bond and two sureties, the senior Congress leader was also asked to co-operate with the investigating agency as and when required. Further restrictions on Chidambaram include no travel abroad.
Justice A.S. Bopanna, who read out the verdict, noted that “economic offences were grave offences” and that the bench had perused the contents of the sealed cover submitted to it by the ED.
“We were not inclined to see the materials of sealed cover,” the judge read from the verdict. “But since the Delhi High Court had relied on such content, we had to peruse the contents of the sealed cover as the HC order was under challenge.”
The Delhi High Court had on 15 November rejected the former finance minister’s bail application plea.
SC takes into account Chidambaram’s age
The SC said though it is of the view economic offences are grave, bail is the rule and jail was an exception. In ED case alone, Chidambaram has spent over 45 days in custody.
The court in its verdict while dismissing the Delhi HC order has given regard to the former finance minister’s age and his medical condition, noting that those impediments will not allow Chidambaram to influence witnesses or tamper with evidence.
“The appellant is aged about 74 years and as noted by the High Court itself in its order, the appellant has already suffered two bouts of illness during incarceration and was put on antibiotics and has been advised to take steroids of maximum strength,” the court said.
“In that circumstance, the availability of the appellant for further investigation, interrogation and facing trial is not jeopardised and he is already held to be not a ‘flight risk’ and there is no possibility of tampering the evidence or influencing\intimidating witnesses.”
On a request by Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta, the three-judge bench included that findings in this order will not have a bearing on cases against other accused. This was in relation to similar ED cases of irregular FIPB approvals against P Chidambaram’s son Karti Chidambaram, who is currently on bail.
Bail in CBI case
On 22 October, the Supreme Court had granted bail to the senior Congress leader in the INX Media corruption case lodged by the CBI.
A bench headed by Justice R. Banumathi had set aside the Delhi High Court’s 30 September verdict denying bail to the former finance minister in the case. Chidambaram will make himself available for interrogation as and when called by the probe agency, the SC said.
Chidambaram was arrested by the CBI in connection with the graft case on 21 August. The CBI recently chargesheeted him and others, including son Karti and some bureaucrats, for causing loss to the exchequer by allegedly committing offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act and the Indian Penal Code.
Chidambaram is currently in ED custody in the INX Media money laundering case.
The CBI had registered an FIR on 15 May 2017 alleging irregularities in a Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance granted to INX Media group for receiving overseas funds of Rs 305 crore in 2007, during Chidambaram’s tenure as the finance minister.
Thereafter, the ED lodged a money laundering case in this regard in 2017.