SC rejects economic offenders 'flight risk' comment

Last Updated 22 October 2019, 12:11 IST

The Supreme Court Tuesday refused to accept the CBI contention that 'flight risk' of economic offenders be viewed as a "national phenomenon" because several such persons including industrialist Vijay Mallya have fled the country.

The apex court, which granted bail to senior Congress leader and former finance minister P Chidambaram in the INX Media corruption case, said there cannot be a "straight-jacket formula" for this so as to deny bail to an accused due to conduct of other offenders.

"At this stage itself, it is necessary for us to indicate that we are unable to accept the contention of the Solicitor General that 'flight risk' of economic offenders should be looked at as a national phenomenon and be dealt with in that manner merely because certain other offenders have flown out of the country," said a bench headed by Justice R Banumathi.

The bench, also comprising justices A S Bopanna and Hrishikesh Roy, said the issue regarding an accused being a 'flight risk' has to the considered on a individual basis and being uninfluenced by the unconnected cases.

"The same cannot, in our view, be put in a straight-jacket formula so as to deny bail to the one who is before the court, due to the conduct of other offenders, if the person under consideration is otherwise entitled to bail on the merits of his own case," the bench said while setting aside the September 30 verdict of the Delhi High Court which had denied bail to Chidambaram.

"Hence, in our view, such consideration including as to 'flight risk' is to be made on individual basis being uninfluenced by the unconnected cases, more so, when the personal liberty is involved," the top court said.

While opposing Chidambaram's bail plea in the apex court, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the CBI, had argued that the high court had erred in saying that the Congress leader was not a 'flight risk' as country is facing a problem where persons accused in financial frauds and economic offences are fleeing India.

"We are not comparing anyone with this individual (Chidambaram) but one of them was even a Member of Parliament," Mehta had argued, in an apparent reference to Mallya, who owed over Rs 9,000 crore to banks and fled India in 2016.

In its 27-page judgement granting bail to Chidambaram, the apex court said he is neither a "flight risk" nor is there a possibility of "his abscondence from the trial".

"The appellant is not a 'flight risk' and in view of the conditions imposed, there is no possibility of his abscondence from the trial," the bench said.

It also dismissed CBI's plea challenging the findings of the high court which had said that Chidambaram was not a "flight risk" and there was no possibility of him tampering with the evidence.

Chidambaram was arrested by the CBI on August 21 in the corruption case which was registered on May 15, 2017 alleging irregularities in a Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance granted to the INX Media group for receiving overseas funds of Rs 305 crore in 2007, during Chidambaram's tenure as finance minister.

Later, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) also lodged a money laundering case in 2017.

Chidambaram is presently in ED's custody in connection with the money laundering case.

(Published 22 October 2019, 11:11 IST)

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