New Delhi: The legal team representing P. Chidambaram on Thursday sought relief for the former Union minister, after Solicitor General Tushar Mehta submitted before the Supreme Court that the Congress stalwart was being evasive with his replies to the investigating agencies in the INX Media corruption case.
Chidambaram was arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in a late-night development on Wednesday, and was remanded to four-day CBI custody by the apex court on Thursday. On 20 August, the Delhi high court had rejected Chidambaram’s anticipatory bail.
The legal team, comprising senior counsels Kapil Sibal and Abhishek Manu Singhvi, argued vehemently that Chidambaram was not evasive with his answers, and the interrogation report should be reviewed in the court to prove that he was answering the questions as was required. Sibal also said that the CBI could have interrogated him at any point in time after 2017, when the case was registered, or even after 6 June 2018 when he was last interrogated.
Sibal argued that while the other accused in the INX Media corruption case, including Chidambaram’s son, Karti, and company chartered accountant Bhaskaraman, besides Peter and Indrani Mukherjea, were either on bail, or were granted protection from arrest, there was no reason for the CBI to take him into custody. Sibal also said that since a draft charge-sheet is already ready, there was no need for custodial interrogation, considering that the probe in the case is already complete.
“This is a case of documentary evidence. The secretaries recommended the case to the finance minister and he approved. The first information report (FIR) was filed after 10 years. He was interrogated for only one day. You could have called him again. He has never skipped any interrogation." Sibal said.
While opposing CBI’s demand for a five-day remand, Sibal argued that “the documents they needed for investigation could have also been sought from the lawyer".
“Last night, the CBI said that they wanted to interrogate him... They did not start the interrogation until 12 noon and asked him only 12 questions...By now they should know what questions to ask. Are the questions not ready?" he asked.
Soon after, Singhvi sprang into action saying that there was no instance when Chidambaram was not cooperative with the agencies, and a case cannot be made just on Indrani Mukerjea’s statement. The CBI needs to make a strong case to get custodial interrogation, but so far it is only based on the allegation of being evasive, he argued, adding that the purpose of custodial interrogation is not to seek a confession.
In response, Mehta argued that “certain questions can be answered only when the accused is not under a protective umbrella". But, Sibal was quick with his response: “When the judge reserved the judgement for seven months, is this the “protective umbrella" that I had sought?"
Subsequently, Sibal and Singhvi pleaded that Chidambaram be allowed to represent himself before the court. The court finally acceded to the plea, despite opposition from the solicitor general.
“They asked if I have a bank account abroad, I said no, they asked if my son has an account abroad, I said yes," Chidambaram said. “Please look at the questions and answers, there are no questions, which I have not answered, please read the transcript."
“The order of the court granting four days remand was an expected order. Challenging the remand at the moment would delay the entire process, rather bail should be applied on the day the remand ends," observed senior counsel Sanjay Hegde.
On whether the Enforcement Directorate (ED) can seek custodial remand once the CBI’s remand period ends, Hegde said: “If that happens it would validate the charge of vendetta. People and courts are not stupid. If an order is passed, it is on the basis of legal grounds and when relief is sought that is on the basis of available legal options. Leeway might be given to agencies, but just for probe purposes. The courts will definitely step up if they see the agencies are trying to use the court as the baton for abuse."