The Supreme Court Wednesday extended till tomorrow the interim protection from arrest granted to former finance minister P Chidambaram in the INX Media money laundering case lodged by the Enforcement Directorate (ED).
A bench of Justices R Banumathi and A S Bopanna heard arguments advanced by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta who said that Chidambaram was trying to play the “victim card” and prevent ED from exercising its right to arrest him in the case.
“This is not a witch hunt as alleged by them. We have material to show that it is a serious case of money laundering. We have collected cogent materials in the case,” Mehta told the bench, which would continue hearing arguments in the case on Thursday.
The apex court is hearing a plea filed by Chidambaram who has challenged the August 20 verdict of the Delhi High Court denying him anticipatory bail in the INX Media corruption and money laundering cases lodged by the CBI and the ED.
“A ghost is sought to be created by playing the victim card,” Mehta said while opposing grant of anticipatory bail to Chidambaram.
CBI had lodged an FIR on May 15, 2017, alleging irregularities in FIPB clearance granted to INX Media group for receiving overseas funds of Rs 305 crore in 2007 during Chidambaram’s tenure as finance minister. Thereafter, ED lodged a money laundering case. Chidambaram was Union minister for finance as also home during the UPA-I and UPA-II government from 2004 to 2014.
He had said in the apex court on Tuesday that the ED be asked to produce transcripts of his questioning in the case and claimed that the probe agency wanted his arrest just to “humiliate” him.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Chidambaram, had told the court that he was quizzed by the agency on three dates in 2018 and 2019 and transcripts of questioning would clear the air on whether he was evasive in his replies, as alleged by it while seeking his custodial interrogation.
Senior advocate A M Singhvi, also appearing for Chidambaram, had said the former minister was not evasive during his questioning and has fully co-operated in the probe.
“You (ED) want to arrest me, but for what reason? The answer is—to humiliate me, to humiliate me and to humiliate me, minute by minute and hour by hour,” Singhvi had said. He argued that ED had lodged the case in 2017 whereas the offences alleged are of the period 2007-2008.
Referring to the high court verdict which used “gravity of offence” to deny anticipatory bail to Chidambaram, Singhvi said ‘gravity’ is a subjective word and what is grave for someone may not be grave for others.
The best test of gravity of an offence is period of sentence prescribed for it and Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) considers sentence of over seven year, including death or life term, as grave and punishment of up to seven year as less grave, he told the top court.
Offences alleged against Chidambaram entail a maximum punishment of up to seven years, he added.
Singhvi said Chidambaram was not a ‘flight risk’ that he may abscond and non co-operation does not mean that a person has to give answer which the probe agencies want, and that there was no question of tampering of any evidence.