Delhi HC seeks CBI report on Chidambaram's bail plea

The Delhi High Court on Thursday issued notice to the CBI on a plea by former Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram for regular bail in the INX media case.

The court, however, questioned him for challenging the order for sending him to judicial custody, prompting him to withdraw the petition filed under Section 482 of the Criminal Procedure Code. Justice Suresh Kumar Kait sought a response from the CBI within a week and posted the matter for hearing on September 23.

The court questioned Chidambaram's counsel, senior advocates Kapil Sibal and A M Singhvi, for challenging the validity of the order of September 5 by the trial court for sending the accused petitioner to Tihar jail under the judicial custody. "There is a plea for regular bail. You have also challenged remand. He is already in jail. Today is 12th and on 19th September, he will be produced again. The remand order was passed on September 5. Why didn't you approach court earlier," the bench asked the counsel.

On this, Sibal said there were holidays in between. "When you can approach the Supreme Court on the same day, then why didn't you file for regular bail on Friday? Friday was working day," the judge asked again.

The court also pointed out ultimately that after judicial custody, the bail plea is filed. "Why have you filed plea against judicial custody order? Which is your best petitions," the judge again asked. On this, Sibal said he would withdraw the petition and asked the court to hear the bail plea.

Arguing the matter, Sibal said the events were related to 2007-08, while the FIR was filed on May 15, 2017. He was called for questioning only once in 2018. Then he was arrested on August 21, 2019. All the offences alleged have maximum seven years imprisonment. He has played no role, Sibal contended. 

Opposing the plea, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta contended this was a serious crime. "It is at a chargesheet stage. There is a strong case. The HC has already recorded that in its previous order of August 20," he said. On this, the court asked how he has received money. "It is not a case where a clerk would have taken money under the table. Money trail will be shown," he submitted.

After hearing the counsel for a while, the court asked the CBI to file its reply and posted the matter for hearing on September 23.

During hearing, Chidambaram's counsel also sought a permission for providing home-cooked food to him and meeting with the family members. Mehta submitted there can't be special treatment to jail inmates.

In his petition, the 74-year-old senior Congress leader contended that after his “illegal” arrest on August 21, and post 15 days maximum permissible custodial interrogation, investigation against him has come to end and thus he ought to be released on bail.

Expressing readiness to abide by any condition for bail, the petitioner contended that he was a senior citizen suffering from various disease. He also maintained that he had always cooperated with the investigating agency and did not have any propensity to evade the process of law.

Questioning the order to send him to judicial custody, he said none of the grounds like flight risk, tampering with the evidence and influencing witnesses were present in his case.

He also pointed out other accused – his son, Karti, S Bhaskararaman, Indrani and Peter Mukerjea -- had already been granted bail in the case. He also said none of the FIPB officials was arrested or sought to be arrested.

“During his custody, he has been confronted by then under secretary R Prasad, OSD P K Bagga, director Prabodh Saxena, joint secretary Anup Pujari and additional secretary Sidhushree Khullar of the department of economic affairs, who were involved in the process of the FIPB file pertaining to INX media. All of the whom affirmed the correctness of the clearance and denied any illegality in the approval,” his petition stated.

He also contended during 55 hours of questioning, he was not confronted with any materials relating to allegations of “foreign accounts”, or the “properties owned abroad” or the “shell companies”.

Chidambaram also pointed out that the FIR was registered 10 years after -- on May 15, 2017 -- and he was arrested 12 years after -- on  August 21, 2019 -- in the case “borne out of political vendetta” by the CBI “at the behest of central government, which wants to malign his untainted and unimpeachable reputation".

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