SC grants P Chidambaram bail in INX media case

Chidambaram, a member of the Rajya Sabha, is expected to attend the ongoing Winter Session on Parliament on Thursday, but his wife Nalini also flagged health concerns of the 74-year-old leader.

Former Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram on Wednesday walk free out of Tihar Jail after being in custody for 105 days, as the Supreme Court on Wednesday, granted him bail in a money laundering case registered in connection with the 2007 INX media scam.

Chidambaram, a member of the Rajya Sabha, is expected to attend the ongoing Winter Session on Parliament on Thursday, but his wife Nalini also flagged health concerns of the 74-year-old leader.

A bench of Justices R Banumathi, A S Bopanna and Hrishikesh Roy disapproved the manner in which the Delhi HC on November 15 recorded the conclusions relating to the offence registered by the Enforcement Directorate in May, 2017.

“The judge was empowered to look at the materials produced in a sealed cover to satisfy his judicial conscience, he ought not to have recorded finding,” the bench said.

“Though it would be open for the court to peruse the documents, it would be against the concept of fair trial if in every case the prosecution presents documents in sealed cover and the findings are recorded as if the offence is committed and it is treated as having a bearing for denial or grant of bail,” the bench added.

The court also pointed out Chidambaram was not in political power nor was he holding any post in the government of the day so as to be in a position to interfere with the process of evidence gathering.

“Such allegation cannot be accepted on its face value,” it said, rejecting a contention by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta that tampering could not be ruled in view of pending letters rogatory to foreign countries.

Chidambaram was arrested by the CBI on August 21. The top court granted him bail on October 22. But the ED had arrested on October 16 in a separate case, arising out of FIPB approval granted to INX media group during his tenure as the minister.

Dealing with the Enforcement Directorate's contention that gravity of the offence has to be considered, apart from triple factors like a flight risk, the possibility of tampering with the evidence and influencing the witnesses, the bench said it will have to be gathered from the facts and circumstances arising in each case.

“Even if the allegation is one of grave economic offence, it is not a rule that bail should be denied in every case since there is no such bar in law nor does the bail jurisprudence provides so,” Justice Bopanna, who authored the judgement on behalf of the bench, said.

The court said Chidambaram was entitled to bail as he had undergone custodial interrogation, his availability for further investigation, interrogation and during the trial was not jeopardised. There was no flight risk and possibility of him influencing witnesses and tampering the evidence.

Besides, the court also considered that he was 74-year-old and had suffered two bouts of illness during incarceration and all other co-accused including his son Karti are not under detention.

Conditions for bail:

*** Don't leave the country without prior permission

*** Be available for interrogation

*** Don't tamper with the evidence or attempt to intimidate or influence witnesses

*** Don't give press interviews or make any public comment in connection with the case.

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