New Delhi: A single-judge bench of the Delhi High Court Tuesday refused to grant anticipatory bail to former finance minister P. Chidambaram in the INX media case.
The CBI and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) had opposed Chidambaram’s bail application on the grounds that INX Media was granted clearance from the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) during his tenure as finance minister and that the group received irregular overseas funding to the tune of Rs 305 crore in 2007.
The primary ground of both investigating agencies seeking cancellation of Chidambaram’s anticipatory bail plea was that he remained “evasive during questioning” and that custodial interrogation was needed in the case.
Immediately after the ruling, senior advocates Kapil Sibal and Abhishekh Manu Singhvi, counsels for Chidambaram, moved the Supreme Court against the Delhi High Court order. In an urgent mentioning, the former finance minister has sought protection from the SC till the matter is listed and heard in court. His counsels have informed the registrar to list it urgently.
The matter is to be mentioned before the senior-most judge Wednesday.
ThePrint breaks down the case.
What is the INX media case?
According to the CBI, companies linked to Chidambaram’s son, Karti Chidambaram, had influenced the FIPB for approval of irregular investment worth Rs 305 crore in INX Media when the former was the finance minister in 2007.
INX Media was founded by Indrani Mukerjea in 2007 through two companies, INX Media Pvt Ltd and INX News Pvt Ltd. She is currently lodged in Mumbai’s Byculla jail for allegedly murdering her daughter Sheena Bora. Apart from Indrani, her husband, Peter Mukerjea, is also linked to the case.
Indrani had on 11 July opted to turn approver in the case; the Delhi court judge pardoned her after she “voluntarily” submitted to turn approver. Her statements will now be accepted as evidence in the court.
Karti Chidambaram, however, has denied meeting both Indrani and Peter. He had been granted bail by the high court in the same case in 2018.
The finer details of the case
The CBI says that the finance ministry, then under Chidambaram, received an application from INX media for FIPB approval on 15 March 2007. The FIPB, in a meeting on 18 May 2017, recommended the proposal of INX media to issue equity shares to three non-resident investors, in order to create several news channels. INX Media had also proposed that financial investment of up to 26 per cent of the outstanding equity share capital of the company be allowed.
The FIPB, however, did not approve downstream investment by INX Media in INX News and even for INX Media, the board allowed FDI inflow of only Rs 4.62 crore, CBI says.
According to CBI’s FIR, contrary to the approval of FIPB, INX Media allegedly violated conditions and made an irregular investment of up to 26 per cent in capital for INX News. This generated over Rs 305 crore of FDI in INX Media against the allowed foreign inflow of Rs 4.62 crore as shares were issued to foreign investors at a premium of over Rs 800 per share.
What defence has Chidambaram put forward?
Chidambaram had first argued about the delay in the investigation as these alleged irregularities in granting the FIPB clearance to INX Media happened in 2007 whereas the investigation by CBI and ED began in 2018. He also stated that his name was missing from the FIR as an accused and that none of the sections could be proven against him.
He also said that while deciding on anticipatory bail, the judge need not look into the merits of the case but only that three conditions are satisfied — that he is no flight risk, there is no risk of evidence being tampered with and that the accused would remain available for investigation and questioning.
What now for the former finance minister?
When the judge refused to grant him anticipatory bail Tuesday, the counsel for Chidamabaram pleaded to “exercise alternate legal remedies” to which the judge only replied, “we will see”. Legally, both investigating agencies can now arrest the former finance minister for custodial interrogation. Chidambaram, however, still has the option of challenging this order in a division bench of the high court or the Supreme Court seeking to quash the order on the grounds that he is available for investigation and interrogation and that he need not be arrested for the same.
His lawyers have already approached the Supreme Court.