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Chidambaram sent to Tihar jail for 2 weeks in INX Media case

Last updated on: September 05, 2019 22:26 IST

IMAGE: Congress leader and former finance minister P Chidambaram being taken to Tihar jail in connection with the INX Media corruption case, in New Delhi, on Thursday. Photograph: Ravi Choudhary/PTI Photo

Former Union finance minister P Chidambaram was put behind bars on Thursday hours after a Central Bureau of Investigation court sent him to two-week judicial custody in the INX Media case in an unprecedented setback to the Congress veteran who even offered to surrender to the Enforcement Directorate in a desperate attempt to be spared the ignominy of going to prison.

Chidambaram, a former Union home minister and who is just 10 days short of his 74th birthday, was taken in a blue police bus to Tihar prison from a special CBI court in Rouse Avenue -- a distance of 18 km, and was lodged in the same Jail No. 7 where his son Karti was locked up for 12 days in the same case last year.

 

Jail No.7 usually houses those facing ED cases.

Chidambaram, who was accompanied by police personnel in the police bus, was put in a special cell in the Asia's biggest prison complex as per the orders of the CBI court.

IMAGE: Police personnel stand guard outside the Tihar jail as they wait for the arrival of Chidambaram. Photograph: Manvender Vashist/PTI Photo

As those assembled in his court waited with bated breath for his order after a 30-minute hearing, special judge Ajay Kumar Kuhar sent Chidambaram to judicial custody till September 19 in the corruption case filed by the CBI linked to INX Media.

The judge pronounced the order one hour after the conclusion of the brief hearing.

With Chidambaram in jail he can now apply for regular bail.

Chidambaram, a Rajya Sabha MP, faced a fresh setback earlier in the day when the Supreme Court denied him anticipatory bail in the ED's money laundering case related to the media firm.

IMAGE: Chidambaram was produced before the court on the expiry of his 15-day CBI custody on Thursday. Photograph: Ravi Choudhary/PTI Photo

Holding that the ED case is 'not a fit case' to grant relief to Chidambaram, a bench of Justices R Banumathi and A S Bopanna said economic offences stand as a different class as they affect 'economic fabric of the society' and 'extraordinary power' of granting anticipatory bail has to be exercised sparingly in such cases.

With the top court's order in its favour, the ED had the option to arrest Chidambaram any time but it decided against making its move.

As a result, judge Kuhar had the option of releasing him on bail or remand the lawyer-politician in judicial custody.

Chidambaram was produced before the judge on the expiry of his maximum 15-day CBI custody ordered in five spells after his arrest on the night of August 21 from his residence in upscale Jor Bagh in New Delhi amid high drama when the probe agency personnel even scaled the boundary walls to gain entry.

IMAGE: With Chidambaram in jail he can now apply for regular bail. Photograph: Ravi Choudhary/PTI Photo

The CBI registered a first information report on May 15, 2017, alleging irregularities in the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance granted to the INX Media group for receiving overseas funds of Rs 305 crore in 2007 during Chidambaram's tenure as the finance minister.

Thereafter, the ED lodged a money laundering case in the same matter in 2017.

"INX Media and Aircel Maxis are non-cases. They(probe agencies) will never prepare a charge sheet. There is no evidence to charge us. For political reasons we have to go through this process. I have gone through this," Karti Chidambaram told reporters.

Karti said he was confident his father will return home soon.

Allowing Chidambaram to carry his spectacles and prescribed medicines, judge Kuhar said he should be provided western-style toilet.

The judge also directed that he be kept in a separate cell in Tihar prison as he was a protectee under Z-category security.

The court also issued notice to the ED on Chidambaram's plea seeking to surrender in the money laundering case lodged by the agency.

IMAGE: Police van carrying Chidambaram leaves from the Rouse Avenue Court. Photograph: Ravi Choudhary/PTI Photo

"The allegations against the accused (Chidambaram) were found serious and therefore he was remanded to police custody. The investigation is still in progress. The CBI has apprehension that because of his status and his position, the investigation may be hampered by the accused.

"It's not a case where the accused can be 'released' at the stage of considering his extension of his remand as submitted by the counsel for accused.

"Having considered all facts and circumstances of the case, the nature of offences, stage of investigation, the accused is remanded to judicial custody," judge Kuhar said.

The CBI told the court that Chidambaram can be sent to judicial custody as he was a powerful public person and should not be set free.

Chidambaram's lawyer and party colleague Kapil Sibal opposed the CBI plea, saying there was no allegation that he tried to influence or hamper the probe.

Sibal also said Chidambaram was ready to surrender to the ED.

IMAGE: Karti Chidambaram was also seen outside the Tihar jail. Photograph: Manvender Vashist/PTI Photo

"Why should I (Chidambaram) be sent to jail (Tihar)?" he said and pressed that ED should take him to its custody.

"There is nothing found against me. There is no charge sheet. They say I am powerful and influential. But they have no evidence.

"There is no evidence of tampering with evidence. Has a witness said anything like that?" Sibal argued.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta objected to Sibal's submission, saying he is arguing for bail.

However, Sibal said, "The reasons given in the application for judicial custody are non-existent. What do you need me for in judicial custody?"

When Mehta sought a clarification as to for what relief Sibal is arguing the latter said, "I (Chidambaram) am arguing for my release."

Mehta said the apex court has accepted his arguments in the money laundering case lodged by the ED and there is a strong chance of tampering with evidence and witnesses and response is awaited on the Letters Rogatory (LR) sent to various countries.

IMAGE: Chidambaram was lodged in the same Jail No. 7 where his son Karti was locked up for 12 days in the same case last year. Photograph: PTI Photo

"This is a case of serious economic offence affecting economy of the country," he said, adding Chidambaram is influential and have pervasive control over things and may influence witnesses.

It was some consolation for the Chidambarams that another special court on Thursday granted anticipatory bail to them in Aircel Maxis cases filed by the CBI and ED.

Special Judge O P Saini said charges against them were not of grave magnitude as the alleged money laundered is a 'paltry amount' of Rs 1.13 crore compared to the money purportedly received by the accused already discharged in the cases.

The judge, however, directed the Chidambarams to join the probe in the cases lodged by the two agencies and said that in the event of arrest, they be released on a personal bond of Rs 1 lakh and one surety of like amount.

The cases relate to alleged irregularities in the grant of FIPB approval in the Rs 3,500-crore Aircel-Maxis deal when Chidambaram was the finance minister.

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