Karti Chidambaram, son of Congress leader P Chidambaram, was on Tuesday sent to three more days of Central Bureau of Investigation custody by a trial court in the INX Media bribery case and also failed to get Supreme Court's interim protection from arrest by the Enforcement Directorate in a related money laundering case.
Karti, meanwhile, sought bail from the trial court alleging that the CBI was acting at the behest of the Centre to malign the reputation of his father during whose tenure Foreign Investment Protection Board clearance was granted to the INX Media group.
Special CBI Judge Sunil Rana posted the bail plea for hearing on March 9 when the three-day CBI custody of Karti would come to an end.
Karti contended that his arrest was ‘illegal and arbitrary’ but the central investigating agency opposed his bail plea, saying the investigation was at a crucial stage and his custodial interrogation was necessary to unearth the entire conspiracy in the INX Media corruption case.
The bail application stated, ‘It is submitted that the instant criminal proceeding is mala fide and borne out of political vendetta and the investigating agency was acting at the behest of the central government, which wants to malign the untainted and unimpeachable reputation of the applicant's father P Chidambaram who is a senior leader of the Indian National Congress and is also the ex-Union finance minister.’
The CBI got a shot in the arm when the CBI judge rejected Karti's stand that the case against him was ‘politically motivated’ and ‘targeted’ to tarnish the image of his father and allowed the agency to subject him to three more days of custodial interrogation.
The setback to Karti in the CBI case came few hours after the Supreme Court refused to grant him interim protection from arrest by the ED in a money laundering case relating to the INX Media group.
The top court asked the ED to file its response on a fresh plea by Karti against the probe done in the money laundering case.
It also asked the CBI to respond to Karti's allegations that he was being harassed by the roving probe of the two agencies.
Outside the trial court in Patiala House, Karti repeated his stand that the allegations against him were baseless.
While in the apex court, a bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud said that its order would not come in the way of proceedings being conducted before any other court, in the trial court, judge Rana said custodial interrogation of Karti was necessary to "speed up" and "maintain continuity" in the probe to secure evidence to arrive at the truth.
Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Tushar Mehta, who appeared for the CBI and ED in the trial court and the apex court, vehemently opposed Karti's pleas in both the courts.
In the trial court, the ASG said there was a need for his further custodial interrogation as there were ‘new revelations’ and Karti has to be confronted with ‘new facts’.
He told the trial court that there was ‘substantial progress’ in the last four days of probe and Karti ‘had not been cooperating’ and had not disclosed passwords of his mobile phones.
The ASG said Karti was not entitled for bail as the investigation in the case was at a crucial stage and ‘during the course of investigation, names of a few more companies have surfaced yesterday only and for this purpose, further custody remand of the accused is required as he has to be confronted with the same’.
While in the Supreme Court, Chidambaram's party colleague and senior advocate Kapil Sibal came to defend Karti, in the trial court, another party colleague and senior counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi opposed CBI's plea saying that the agency was trying to seek police custody by ‘hook or by crook’.
Sibal told the apex court there was serious infringement of his client's fundamental rights due to the ‘arbitrary and mala fide acts’ of the ED, which is probing the alleged money laundering case and that Karti may be arrested by ED in a ‘frivolous’ case lodged by it after his police custody granted by the trial court to the CBI gets over.
Before the trial court, Singhvi opposed the CBI’s plea against bail for Karti and said that the agency had already been granted ‘enough time’ to interrogate Karti and he was not a terrorist with a bomb that he could not be interrogated without being kept in custody.
Karti was arrested on February 28 at Chennai Airport on his return from the United Kingdom, in connection with the FIR lodged on May 15 last year alleging irregularities in FIPB clearance to INX Media for receiving overseas funds worth about Rs 305 crore in 2007 when his father was finance minister.
The fresh evidence in the case, triggering the arrest, was based on a statement from Indrani Mukerjea, a prime accused in the Sheena Bora murder case and one of the then promoters of INX Media, alleging payment of bribe to Karti. The statement was recorded under section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure before a magistrate on February 17.
IMAGE: Karti Chidambaram being produced by the CBI in the INX Media case, at Patiala House court in New Delhi on Tuesday. Photograph: Ravi Choudhary/PTI Photo