INX Media case: Chidambaram arrested amid high drama

Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) officials arrest Congress leader P Chidambaram from his Jor Bagh residence in New Delhi, Wednesday, Aug 21, 2019. (PTI File Photo)

Former Finance Minister P Chidambaram was arrested by the CBI in the INX Media case on Wednesday night, soon after his dramatic appearance in Congress headquarters following Supreme Court refusal to grant immediate relief and urgent hearing on his plea for pre-arrest bail.

The arrest came almost 30 hours of high drama after Delhi High Court rejected his anticipatory bail plea on Tuesday evening and Supreme Court listing Chidambaram's appeal for hearing only on Friday after refusing immediate relief.

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The 73-year-old Rajya Sabha MP was taken to CBI headquarters from his Jor Bagh residence at around 9:45 PM, almost 90 minutes after his appearance in Congress office and amid a group of Congress workers protesting and some of them throwing themselves on top of the car in which he was driven.

Chidambaram is now likely to wait for the Supreme Court order before taking any further legal steps. He will be presented before a court here where the CBI is expected to seek his custodial interrogation.

Though Chidambaram expected that the CBI will wait till Supreme Court hearing his plea, the agency did not lose time as soon as he surfaced. With Supreme Court not giving him immediate relief, Chidambaram felt that it was better to make a political statement before the arrest.

He had the full backing of his party with Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi and others coming out in support and a battery of senior leaders, including Ghulam Nabi Azad, Mallikarjun Kharge, Ahmed Patel, K C Venugopal, Kapil Sibal, Salman Khurshid, Abhishek Singhvi and Vivek Tankha flanking him when he met the media.

Chidambaram was not seen in public for almost 27 hours after he left Supreme Court on Tuesday evening only to surface in Congress headquarters at around 8:15 PM to read out a statement to emphasis that he was not in hiding but was consulting his lawyers and monitoring proceedings in Supreme Court.

"I was aghast that I was accused of hiding from the law, on the contrary, I was seeking protection of law," Chidambaram read out from the statement but did not take questions. "I will respect the law, even if it is applied with an uneven hand by the probe agencies," he said indicating that he was not going to evade arrest.

The CBI has been attempting to arrest him since Tuesday after the Delhi High Court order, which said Chidambaram was "prima facie the kingpin" and economic offences should be dealt with an "iron hand".

However, the investigators could not reach till he surfaced at the Congress headquarters in Akbar Road. As soon as Chidambaram reached there, CBI investigators rushed to the Congress office but by then he had left prompting them to drive to his residence where they had to scale the wall to enter his premises.

His arrest comes 18 months after his son Karti was apprehended by the CBI in the case in which Chidambaram is facing allegations of illegally granting permission to INX Media to receive Rs 305 crore foreign direct investment when he was Finance Minister under UPA government.

Karti is accused of influencing Ministry of Finance officials to grant the clearance using his father's clout. Chidambaram had been also accused of former INX Media promoters Peter Mukerjea and Indrani Mukerjea that he asked them to help his son's business when they approached him for help. Indrani had alleged Karti had demanded USD one million from the promoters.

Earlier in the day, both the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate had issued Look Out Notices against Chidambaram, as he was not reachable for the investigators.

In Supreme Court, Chidambaram failed to get any relief twice in a row during the day. The apex court listed the matter to be heard on Friday.

Attempts of Chidambaram's lawyers to grab the attention of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, who was heading a Constitution Bench on Ayodhya, to get the matter heard also failed.

When the issue of appeal was raised before Justices N V Ramana, Mohan M Shantanagoudar and Ajay Rastogi, the bench asked, "can we hear the matter without listing...normally, we place the matter before the CJI after work, but in your case, it was sent to the CJI immediately."

After 4 pm, it was learnt that the special leave petition filed by Chidambaram would be posted before a bench for hearing on Friday. Before that Sibal, along with senior advocates Salman Khurshid and Vivek Tankha appeared before the Chief Justice.

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