New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday said it would peruse on Wednesday the documents provided in a sealed cover by the CBI, which has tried to nail Karti Chidambaram—son of former union minister P. Chidambaram—over his foreign bank accounts and properties.
The CBI told a bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra that the documents contained “contemporaneous records", including the details of foreign bank accounts and properties of Karti, and the top court should look into it. The CBI FIR, lodged on 15 May, had alleged irregularities in the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance to INX Media for receiving overseas funds to the tune of Rs305 crore in 2007 when Karti’s father was the union finance minister.
Additional solicitor general Tushar Mehta, appearing for the CBI, questioned Karti’s affidavit filed in the court and said “it would be a travesty of justice if this court does not look into the sealed cover and see whether my statements of facts are correct or not". Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, representing Karti, opposed CBI’s submissions and said these documents cannot be a part of the case diary and if the court looks into it, then these materials should also be shown to him. When Mehta alleged that Karti’s affidavit contained “false averments" about his foreign bank accounts, Sibal shot back saying, “Let him show these documents. Let him show if I (Karti) have opened any other bank account abroad with my (Karti’s) signature".
After hearing the submissions, the bench told Mehta, “You show us the documents tomorrow". At the outset, Mehta told the bench, which also comprised justices A.M. Khanwilkar and D.Y. Chandrachud, that the court should see the documents in a sealed cover along with the affidavit filed by Karti. Sibal, however, said that Karti had disclosed the facts in his affidavit and he had nothing to do with the transactions as alleged in the CBI’s FIR.
“The alleged bribe of Rs10 lakh has not come to me (Karti). FIPB approval has nothing to do with me. I am not a shareholder in these companies. This has nothing to do with the opening of bank accounts abroad," he said. He said Karti wanted to go abroad as he had to get his daughter admitted at the Cambridge University and the look out circular (LoC) was issued when Karti was abroad and he had thereafter returned to India. Mehta opposed the submissions and said the question was whether the person can be “trusted" to go abroad.
“The fact that there is resistance is a good ground to look into these documents," he said, adding that during questioning, Karti had said he has one bank abroad but in his affidavit he has said that there were two foreign accounts. Sibal rebutted the submissions and said the issue before the court was about the LoC and not about the bank accounts. He also alleged that when Karti had gone abroad earlier, he had to close his account there as there was pressure on the bank to close it.
“I (Karti) am a politically exposed person and the bank finally closed that account, so I (Karti) went there to withdraw the money," he said, adding that CBI had never questioned him about his foreign bank account. However, the bench observed, “The ASG is saying these documents are related to the FIR. How can we deny him the right to place it before the court?" The bench also told the CBI that the question was whether Karti could be allowed to go abroad. Mehta claimed that there was a “money trail" in the matter and several companies and their owners were involved.
“The LoC has a direct link with tampering of evidence," he said, adding, “Tampering is the most potential apprehension that we have". The bench made it clear to the CBI that it would examine whether the documents in the sealed cover were connected to Karti or not. The agency had earlier claimed that Karti had “tampered" with evidence relating to an alleged graft case against him during his visits abroad in the months of May, June and July this year.
The top court is hearing CBI’s appeal challenging Madras high court order staying the government’s LoC against Karti in the alleged graft case. On 1 September, the CBI had told the top court that there were “good, cogent" reasons for issuing the LoC against Karti. On 18 August, the court had asked Karti to appear before the investigating officer at the CBI headquarters for questioning in the case.
Before this, the apex court had said that Karti would not be allowed to leave India without subjecting himself to investigation in the case. The court had then stayed the high court order putting on hold the LoC against Karti. The FIR was registered on 15 May before a special CBI judge and the registration of the case was followed by searches at the residences and offices of Karti and his friends the very next day.