New Delhi: Despite a day of continuous mentioning by a battery of senior lawyers appearing for former finance minister P. Chidambaram, the Supreme Court registry refused to list his plea seeking protection from arrest in the INX Media case Wednesday. It is now likely to come up for hearing on 23 August.
A bench comprising Justices N.V. Ramana, M. Shantanagoudar and Ajay Rastogi had said early in the day that “without listing of the petition, we cannot hear the matter”.
The court had earlier kept the case on hold as the petition filed by senior advocate Kapil Sibal had defects and was cured during the day. The Chief Justice of India, being the master of the roster, will now allocate a bench to hear the case Friday, as he was busy with the Ayodhya constitution bench hearing Wednesday.
What is the plea?
Chidambaram has pleaded before the top court he be granted interim protection from arrest by CBI and ED, and also dismiss the Delhi High Court order which has ruled that since he was required for custodial interrogation, plea of anticipatory bail could not be accepted.
In its 20 August order, the high court labelled Chidambaram as the “key conspirator” in the money laundering case.
The CBI, on the other hand, has maintained that Chidambaram was evasive during earlier questioning, and that this case was of “monumental magnitude”.
Both the CBI and the ED sent teams to different parts of the national capital to search for Chidambaram but he was “untraceable”, according to sources. The lookout began after he remained unavailable at his Jor Bagh residence Tuesday evening.
In his petition before the Supreme Court, Chidambaram argued that his antecedents were “impeccable” and there was no possibility of him “fleeing from justice”.
He also requested for more time to appear before the CBI and asked for interim relief.
A team of four senior lawyers — Kapil Sibal, Vivek Tankha, Salman Khurshid and Dayan Krishnan — is representing Chidambaram in Supreme Court.
“The petitioner is a law-abiding citizen and has reputation to sustain in the society. He is a sitting Member of the Rajya Sabha. The antecedents of the Petitioner are impeccable. He has never been an accused of any offence. There is no possibility of his fleeing from justice,” said Chidambaram’s plea.
It added that “custodial interrogation is not at all warranted”.
The plea also said that none of the three grounds to deny bail — likely to flee justice, influence the witnesses or tamper with the evidence — was made out.
Further, it said that Chidambaram should be given protection from arrest because he is not named in the FIR registered in the INX Media case and the charges levelled against him are baseless and politically motivated.
So far, the CBI has summoned him just once on 6 June 2018 and he “duly appeared and answered all questions”, following which the agency never issued any fresh summons to him, the plea said. It added that Chidambaram cooperated fully, whenever he was called in for questioning by the ED.
The CBI, however, told the Supreme Court that “it is a monumental magnitude of (a) money laundering case”.
The late night notice
After its search for Chidambaram Tuesday, the CBI pasted a notice outside his residence late at night asking the former union minister to appear before the agency within two hours of the receipt of the notice for investigation in the case.
Summons were also sent to Chidambaram over email.
“Whereas it appears that you are acquainted with the facts and circumstances of the case noted below, which I am now investigating under Chapter 12 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, you are hereby directed to attend before me within two hours of the receipt of this notice for the purpose of investigation of the case,” the notice read.
Chidambaram’s lawyer Arshdeep Singh Khurana, however, reportedly responded to the notice saying the CBI didn’t mention the law under which his client was told to appear within two hours.
Lookout notice by ED
Meanwhile, the ED put out a lookout circular for Chidambaram Wednesday morning, which will prohibit him from travelling outside the country.
Following this, former Congress president Rahul Gandhi alleged that the Narendra Modi government was misusing probe agencies.
“Modi’s govt is using the ED, CBI and sections of a spineless media to character assassinate Chidambaram. I strongly condemn this disgraceful misuse of power,” Gandhi said in a tweet.
Modi's Govt is using the ED, CBI & sections of a spineless media to character assassinate Mr Chidambaram.
I strongly condemn this disgraceful misuse of power.
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) August 21, 2019
Gandhi’s sibling and Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra also said that the party stands by Chidambaram. In her two-tweet thread, she alleged that the former finance minister was being “hunted down” as he speaks the truth which is “inconvenient to cowards”.
An extremely qualified and respected member of the Rajya Sabha, @PChidambaram_IN ji has served our nation with loyalty for decades including as Finance Minister & Home Minister. He unhesitatingly speaks truth to power and exposes the failures of this government,
— Priyanka Gandhi Vadra (@priyankagandhi) August 21, 2019