The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Thursday sought five-day custody of former union minister P Chidambaram stating that the Congress leader’s custodial interrogation was necessary to unearth larger conspiracy in the INX Media case.
Chidambaram was produced before the CBI court in Delhi’s Rouse Avenue after three hours of questioning by the officials at the probe agency headquarters.
This came a day after the Congress leader was arrested on Wednesday night by CBI officials as a dramatic sequence of events unfolded outside his residence in Jor Bagh.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, counsel for the CBI, said that Chidambaram was in conspiracy with others in the INX Media scam.
The probe agency further argued that the former finance and home minister had not been cooperating in the investigation, a claim that has been reiterated by the CBI since it started probing the case.
Seeking custodial interrogation of the former minister, the Solicitor General argued before the court that P Chidambaram had to be confronted with documents and the other accused in the case.
“Custodial interrogation of P Chidambaram necessary to unearth quid pro quo and larger conspiracy,” the probe agency told the CBI court.
“Grave offence was committed, custodial interrogation required to get answers of certain questions for effective probe,” it further said.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta further said that a chargesheet is yet to be filed in the case as the probe agency needs material which P Chidambaram is holding.
A money trail in the scam has been made out and has to be probed, the CBI insisted.
Concluding its arguments, the probe agency contended that the INX Media scam is a “serious and monumental case of money laundering”.
Kapil Sibal, senior advocate for Chidambaram opposed the five-day custodial interrogation sought by CBI.
What CBI says is not the gospel truth, Sibal said.
Sibal further argued that the First Information Report or FIR has been filed around 10 years after the alleged offence adding that Chidambaram had never skipped any interrogation.
He said the FIPB approval was given by senior officials who were not arrested.
It is alleged that Karti Chidambaram illegally took service charges for getting the FIPB clearance to the INX Media for receiving overseas funds to the tune of Rs 305 crore in 2007 when P Chidambaram was the Finance Minister.
Both Chidambaram and his son have denied the allegations.
Kapil Sibal, representing P Chidambaram in court, further said that the former union minister was last questioned a year ago and there has been no summon after that.
“Now the CBI says they want to question him more and are seeking custodial interrogation,” he said.
Challenging the CBI demand for five-day custody of Chidambaram, Sibal said custody is an exception and not a rule. “Has the prosecution made a strong case for custody?”
In his statement before the court, Chidambaram said that he has not slept for 24 hours.
Kapil Sibal said that Chidambaram, who was arrested last night, was interrogated only at 11 am today.
He said the Congress leader was asked only 12 questions while opposing custodial interrogation. “Yesterday he was told the agency wants to question him but even today for the larger part of the day, the agency did not question him.”
Sibal further said that the first arrest in the case was of Bhaskar Raman — chartered accountant of Karti Chidambaram — who is out on bail. Other accused including P Chidambaram’s son Karti Chidambaram has already been granted bail in the case.
Indrani and Peter Mukerjea, also accused in the case, are on bail due to default as they are in jail in another case, Kapil Sibal argued.
He further questioned how Chidambaram could be accused of non-cooperation when he has already appeared before the agency in the one and only summon.
“Grant of bail is a rule and the issue before the court is of personal liberty,” Sibal told the court in his concluding arguments.
He further said that the CBI could have written a letter to Chidambaram for producing documents alleged to be in his possession.
Defending P Chidambaram, lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi said arrest was an exception. “This case is completely based on a case diary and a statement of another accused,” he said.
“The entire case is based on the statement of Indrani Mukerjea who has now turned an approver,” Singhvi said.
To create a reason for the custody of my client, she has been made an approver, Singhvi argued.
On the probe agency’s “non-cooperation” claim, he said, “Non-cooperation means not responding to summons. Here the agency is saying he is not cooperating as he is not answering the questions in the manner they want.”
Custody is granted only in cases where the probe is impossible without custodial interrogation, he argued.
Singhvi further said that P Chidambaram might be the approver of the FIPB decision but not the decider.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, however, asserted that there was a reasonable ground for P Chidambaram’s custody as he was evasive in his replies.
“We are not extorting confession but we have right to reach to the root of the case,” he told the court.
The CBI court will give its order for Chidambaram this evening.
The senior Congress leader was arrested by the CBI as the agency officials scaled the walls of his Jor Bagh residence in Delhi, minutes after his press conference at the party headquarters where Chidambaram said he was “not hiding from the law but seeking protection of the law”.
Later, a CBI team arrived in a car to take the senior Congress leader into custody. He spent the night at the CBI headquarters.
Chidambaram and his son were named by Peter and Indrani Mukerjea, who owned INX Media at the time and are currently in jail in connection with the murder of Indrani Mukerjea’s daughter Sheena Bora.