Presence of PC evokes fear among witnesses: ED to SC

Former Finance Minister P Chidambaram. (PTI photo)

The Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Thursday strongly opposed before the Supreme Court the bail plea by former Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram, contending his mere presence evoked fear and could influence witnesses in the money laundering case.

The top court reserved its judgement on a petition by Chidambaram in the 2017 case being investigated by the Enforcement Directorate in the INX media scam arising out of irregularities to Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) approval during his stint as Minister in 2007-08.

Chidambaram challenged the validity of the November 15 order dismissing his bail application.

A bench of Justices R Banumathi, A S Bopanna and Hrishikesh Roy wrapped up the hearing wherein the ED said that separate standards must be applied in economic offences involving people who occupied high offices.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the petitioner, contended not to grant him bail if there was one piece of evidence or one SMS, one phone call or one document showing his direct or indirect involvement in the matter.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the ED, said this was not just the INX media investigation. "This is not a case where something was cooked up by an investigating agency. It is based on materials collected. Beneficiaries were traced to Chidambaram and his family members," he said.

Mehta said co-conspirator Karti, son of Chidambaram, was not on regular bail in the case as contended by the petitioner. Karti was granted protection till the apex court examined his plea challenging the validity of certain provisions of Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).

Mehta asked, "Are we going to say that only such offences as committed by Ranga and Billa are grave." "Economic Offences are gravers, it affects the nation, the economy and makes the entire society aggrieved. Test of gravity is not only in terms of punishment of an offence," he maintained. He added that shell companies were created cleverly at the behest of the petitioner for laundering of the money.

There is direct evidence of tampering and pressuring witnesses not to join the investigation, Mehta, along with Additional Solicitor General K M Nataraj said.

Chidambaram was first arrested by the CBI on August 21 in a corruption case related to INX media scam. Though the Supreme Court granted him bail on October 22, he could not walk out of prison since he was arrested on October 16 by the ED in the separate money laundering case.

On Wednesday, a Delhi court extended his judicial custody till December 11.

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