New Delhi: Justice Suresh Kumar Kait of the Delhi High Court Monday took suo motu cognisance of news reports stating that he had mixed up facts of the 2017 Rohit Tandon money laundering case while denying bail to former finance minister P. Chidambaram in the Enforcement Directorate’s INX Media case against him.
Justice Kait has taken cognisance of reports published in The Indian Express and The Hindu, which had alleged that the facts from an unconnected money-laundering case had crept into the recent order rejecting bail to former Union finance minister Chidambaram, and asked the dailies to issue clarifications.
The media reports had stated that portions of the 15 November order resembled the SC decision on a bail plea of lawyer Rohit Tandon, who was arrested in connection with several money laundering cases, and suggested that Justice Kait’s order also had portions from the counter-affidavit filed by ED during the course of arguments.
However, the judge clarified that it was only a reference to the Rohit Tandon case, and that there was no copy-paste job as alleged by the papers.
“It has nowhere been mentioned that the observations made in para 35 of the judgment are of the present case (i.e., P. Chidambaram case). Thus, there is no copy-paste as alleged and I hereby make it clear that the observations made in para 35 shall be read as and are confined to the case of ‘Rohit Tandon vs Enforcement Directorate’,” read the order passed Monday.
Justice Kait has also ordered a “special messenger” to inform the editors of the two dailies of the development for “necessary compliance”. The two newspapers have been asked to issue a “clarification” in this regard in Tuesday’s edition.
Tandon, a Delhi-based lawyer, is accused of putting huge sums of money into various bank accounts in Delhi through his associates. The conspiracy is alleged to have originated post-demonetisation. Tandon was arrested in 2016, and is currently out on bail.
Meanwhile, Chidambaram sought to challenge the Delhi HC order in the Supreme Court Monday, but Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde is likely to take up his plea on 20 November.
The paragraphs in question
The 41-page order of Delhi HC had certain paras which were unconnected to the Chidambaram case, and were seen in the SC’s order in the Tandon case.
In one paragraph, Justice Kait had stated: “It is alleged that during the period from 15.11.2016 to 19.11.2016 huge cash to the tune of Rs 31.75 crore was deposited in eight bank accounts in Kotak Mahindra Bank in the accounts of ‘group of companies’.”
This para was present in the 2017 SC order denying bail to Rohit Tandon.
Another paragraph that seemed to have been reproduced from the SC order read: “…The stated activity allegedly indulged into by the accused named in the commission of the predicate offence is replete with mens rea. In that, the concealment, possession, acquisition or use of the property by projecting or claiming it as untainted property and converting the same by bank drafts, would certainly come within the sweep of criminal activity relating to a scheduled offence. That would come within the meaning of Section 3 and punishable under Section 4 of the Act.”
Apart from similarities to the Rohit Tandon case, The Indian Express report had also pointed out how the verdict had verbatim portions from the counter-affidavit filed by the ED.
The court’s order stated: “Economic offences in itself are considered to be the gravest offence against the society at large and hence are required to be treated differently in the matter of bail… in an even-handed manner without fear of criticism from the quarters which view white-collar crimes with a permissive eye, unmindful of the damage done to the national economy and national interest.”
The exact same text appeared as para 9 in the ED’s counter-affidavit.