SC grants bail to Chidambaram in INX Media money laundering case

The Supreme Court on Wednesday granted bail to Congress leader P Chidambaram in a money laundering case related to INX Media and directed that he could not leave the country without its prior permission nor speak to the media.

Chidambaram, who has been in custody for 105 days, should neither try to influence witnesses nor tamper with evidence, the court said while setting aside the Delhi High Court November 15 verdict denying the former Union finance minister bail

A three-judge bench, headed by Justice R Banumathi, granted the relief to the 74-year-old Congress leader on a personal bond of Rs 2 lakh with two sureties of the like amount

The bench, also comprising Justices A S Bopanna and Hrishikesh Roy, restrained Chidambaram from giving any press interview or making any statements with regard to the case

The top court, which observed that economic offences are grave in nature, said “grant of bail is rule and refusal is exception”

Chidambaram has been custody since August 21 when he was arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in the INX Media corruption case. On October 16, the Enforcement Directorate arrested him in the money-laundering case. Six days later, on October 22, the apex court granted him bail in the case lodged by the CBI.

The bench said its order would not have any bearing on other accused in the case and Chidambaram would have to join further investigations if asked by the probe agency

Holding that the high court was justified in considering the gravity of offence while denying Chidambaram bail, the apex court disapproved of the manner in which the high court had made observations with regard to merits of the case

It said the gravity of the offences are to be examined by the court on the basis of facts and circumstances of each and every case

The bench said it was initially not inclined to open the sealed cover material placed before it by the ED. But since the high court had perused the material, it was imperative for the top court to go through the documents, it said

After pronouncing the verdict, it directed the apex court registry to return the sealed cover material back to the ED

The apex court made it clear that its order would not be construed to be the findings on merits of the case

The court said the alleged complicity of Chidambaram in the case would be examined during the trial

The apex court passed the judgement on the appeal filed by Chidambaram challenging the November 15 Delhi High Court verdict

During arguments in the top court, the ED claimed that Chidambaram continued to wield “substantial influence” on crucial witnesses in the case even while in custody. The Congress leader said the agency cannot “destroy” his career and reputation by making baseless allegations

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the ED, said economic offences like money laundering are grave in nature as they not only affect the nation’s economy but also shake people’s faith in the system, especially when it is committed by people in power

Representing Chidambaram, senior advocates Kapil Sibal and A M Singhvi countered Mehta’s submissions and said there was neither any evidence linking Chidambaram directly or indirectly with the alleged offence nor any material to show that he had influenced witnesses or tampered with any evidence

The CBI had registered its case on May 15, 2017, alleging irregularities in a 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 finance minister

The ED lodged a money laundering case after that.

Delhi HC mentions another case facts in Chidambaram bail order

The facts of another case have found mention in the Delhi High Court order denying bail to former union finance minister P Chidambaram in the INX Media money-laundering case.

In his 41-page verdict on November 15, Justice Suresh Kumar Kait of the high court reproduced some paragraphs from a 2017 Supreme Court order rejecting bail to Delhi-based lawyer Rohit Tandon in a money-laundering case.

The judge also referred to a previous 2017 order of the high court in the case of Rohit Tandon versus Enforcement Directorate in which it was observed that “there is a provision of trial by a special courts in case of ‘schedule offences’ under PMLA. Possibility of joint trial would arise under Section 44 of PMLA only when charge-sheet is filed upon completion of investigation and the case is committed to the Special Court.

“Section 44 does not talk of Joint investigation or joint trial. It makes it mandatory that the offence punishable under Section 4 of the Act and any scheduled offence connected to the offence under that section shall be triable only by Special Court constituted for the area in which the offence has been committed.”

The high court, in its November 15 order dismissing bail plea of Chidambaram, mentioned the facts of Tandon’s case that “it is alleged that during the period from November 15, 2016 to November 19, 2016 huge cash to the tune of Rs. 31.75 crores was deposited in eight bank accounts in Kotak Mahindra Bank in the accounts of ‘group of companies’.”

The order says the prosecution in that case has given details of demand draft issued from November 15, 2016 to November 19, 2016 from eight bank accounts in the name of Sunil Kumar, Dinesh Kumar, Abhilasha Dubey, Madan Kumar, Madan Saini, Satya Narain Dagdi and Seema Bai on various dates. Most of the Demand Drafts issued have since been recovered.

“The statements recorded during investigation have evidentiary value under Section 50 PMLA. Prima facie, the version given by them is in consonance with the prosecution case. The prosecution has further relied upon call data records, CCTV footage. Account Trend Analysis, the high court order notes.

It added, “The stated activity allegedly indulged into by the accused named in the commission of predicate offence is replete with mens rea. In that, the concealment, possession, acquisition or use of the property by projecting or claiming it as untainted property and converting the same by bank drafts, would certainly come within the sweep of criminal activity relating to a scheduled offence. That would come within the meaning of Section 3 and punishable under Section 4 of the Act.”

Some lawyers, who are aware of the facts of Chidambaram’s case, on the condition of anonymity, said certain paragraphs in the November 15 order of the high court are similar to those of high court’s May 5, 2017 and Supreme Court’s November 2017 orders on Tandon’s bail.

Tandon, who was arrested in 2016, is an accused in the demonetisation-related money laundering case.

In the INX Media money-laundering case, the ED had arrested 74-year-old Chidambaram on October 16.

He was arrested by the CBI on August 21 in the INX Media corruption case and was granted bail by the Supreme Court in the CBI case on October 22.

The case was registered by the CBI on May 15, 2017, alleging irregularities in a 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 finance minister.

Thereafter, the ED had lodged a money-laundering case in this regard in 2017.

INX Media money-laundering case : P. Chidambaram moves HC seeking interim bail

Former Union minister P Chidambaram moved the Delhi High Court on Wednesday seeking interim bail in the INX Media money-laundering case on health grounds.

The application was mentioned before a bench of Chief Justice D N Patel and Justice C Hari Shankar by senior advocate Kapil Sibal, who sought urgent listing of the matter.

The bench listed the matter before the appropriate court on Thursday.

The plea for interim relief has been moved by Chidambaram in his main bail application in the INX Media money-laundering case.

Chidambaram will be produced before a trial court on Wednesday on the expiry of his Enforcement Directorate custody in the case.

He was arrested by the CBI on August 21 in the INX Media corruption case.

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

Chidambaram produced before court in INX Media money laundering case

Former finance minister P Chidambaram was produced before a Delhi court Monday in connection with the INX Media money laundering case lodged by the Enforcement Directorate.

Chidambaram, who is in judicial custody till October 17 in the INX Media corruption case filed by the CBI, was produced before special judge Ajay Kumar Kuhar.

The ED had on Friday moved a plea seeking production warrant of the 74-year old senior Congress leader.

The probe agency said in its plea that it requires custodial interrogation of Chidambaram in the money laundering case related to INX Media.

Investigation is prerogative of police and courts should not interfere: SC

Investigation into crimes is the “prerogative” of police and courts should not interfere in its each and every stage as this would affect the normal course of probe, the Supreme Court said Thursday.

The apex court, while denying anticipatory bail to senior Congress leader and former union minister P Chidambaram in the INX Media money laundering case, said it must be left to the discretion of the investigating agency to decide the course of probe and except in rare cases, the judiciary should keep itself out of it.

A bench of Justices R Banumathi and A S Bopanna said it is not the court’s function to monitor investigation process as long as it does not violate any provision of law, and it should be left to agencies to proceed in their own manner in interrogation of accused and nature of questions put to him.

The bench said Solicitor General Tushar Mehta had rightly submitted that if accused are to be confronted with materials which were collected by the ED with huge efforts, it would “lead to devastating consequences and would defeat the very purpose of the investigation into crimes, in particular, white collar offences”.

“The investigation of a cognizable offence and the various stages thereon including the interrogation of the accused is exclusively reserved for the investigating agency whose powers are unfettered so long as the investigating officer exercises his investigating powers well within the provisions of the law and the legal bounds,” the bench said.

Courts can interfere and issue appropriate direction only when it is convinced that the power of investigating officer is “exercised mala fide” or there is abuse of power and non-compliance of the provisions of Code of Criminal Procedure, it said.

“Investigation into crimes is the prerogative of the police and excepting in rare cases, the judiciary should keep out all the areas of investigation,” the bench said in its 57-page judgement.

Referring to earlier judgements rendered by the top court, the bench said there is a well-defined and demarcated function in the field of investigation and its subsequent adjudication.

“If the court is to interfere in each and every stage of the investigation and the interrogation of the accused, it would affect the normal course of investigation. It must be left to the investigating agency to proceed in its own manner in interrogation of the accused, nature of questions put to him and the manner of interrogation of the accused,” it said.

The bench also said it is open for the courts to quash the proceedings where there is a clear case of abuse of power by the investigating officer.

“In the initial stages of investigation where the court is considering the question of grant of regular bail or pre-arrest bail, it is not for the court to enter into the demarcated function of the investigation and collection of evidence/materials for establishing the offence and interrogation of the accused and the witnesses,” it said.

The bench did not accept the contentions of Chidambaram’s lawyer that Enforcement Directorate (ED) be directed to produce transcripts of his interrogation by the probe agency on three dates — December 12 last year and January 1 and 21 this year — so that it could be seen whether his answers to the questions put to him were evasive or not.

It said since the interrogation of accused, questions put to him and answers given by him are part of the investigation, which is purely within the domain of investigation officer, “unless satisfied that the police officer has improperly and illegally exercised his investigating powers in breach of any statutory provision, the court cannot interfere”.

The top court said that privilege of pre-arrest bail should be granted only in “exceptional cases” as grant of this relief, to some extent, interferes in the sphere of probe of an offence and hence, “the court must be circumspect while exercising such power for grant of anticipatory bail”.

“Anticipatory bail is not to be granted as a matter of rule and it has to be granted only when the court is convinced that exceptional circumstances exist to resort to that extraordinary remedy,” it said.

“We are conscious of the fact that the legislative intent behind the introduction of section 438 CrPC (power of granting bail to person apprehending arrest) is to safeguard the individual’s personal liberty and to protect him from the possibility of being humiliated and from being subjected to unnecessary police custody,” it said.

The top court said a delicate balance is required to be established between the two rights – safeguarding the personal liberty of an individual and the societal interest.

The apex court dismissed Chidambaram’s appeal challenging the August 20 verdict of the Delhi High Court denying him anticipatory bail in INX Media money laundering case lodged by the ED saying there were no grounds warranting interference with the order.

The 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, the ED lodged a money laundering case in 2017.

Supreme Court extends protection to Karti Chidambaram till April 2.

The Supreme Court today extended the interim protection against arrest to Karti Chidambaram, granted by the Delhi High Court in the INX Media money laundering case, till April 2.

The order came as the Enforcement Directorate sought an authoritative pronouncement from the top court in view of several conflicting orders of different high courts on the probe agency’s power of arrest under section 19 of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).

A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud was told by Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta that the ED has been armed with the power of arrest under the statute, keeping in mind the several international conventions underlining the need to curb money laundering generated from drugs smuggling, terror financing and blackmoney routing.

Mehta referred to the 1988 UN convention and said the member countries felt the need to have a law to deal with the offence money laundering.

The advent of e-commerce has made investigation into money laundering more difficult as ill-gotten wealth have been transferred to all corners of the world very conveniently after the globalisation, he said.

The bench said the interim order of March 15 granting protection of arrest to Karti, son of former Union Minister P Chidambaram, till today, is extended till April 2. The hearing, which remained inconclusive, would also continue on April 2.

On March 15, the apex court had given the interim relief to Karti in the INX media money laundering case and said it would clear the “confusion” which has crept in due to the divergent views of different high courts on ED’s power to arrest.

The apex court had also transferred to itself the matters pending before the Delhi High Court relating to the power of Enforcement Directorate (ED) to arrest in money laundering cases and also a plea filed by Karti seeking protection from arrest in ED’s case.

The top court had said it would answer the question about interpretation of section 19 of the PMLA relating to ED’s power to arrest and also deal with the issue whether high courts can grant protection from arrest on a plea under Article 226 of the Constitution which deals with high court’s power to issue writs and orders.

Karti was on March 23 granted bail by the Delhi High Court in connection with the INX Media corruption case lodged by the CBI. He was arrested by the CBI on February 28 in Chennai immediately after he returned from abroad.

In his plea before the high court, Karti has sought striking down of ED’s power of arrest under section 19 of the PMLA, besides seeking quashing of the enforcement case information report (ECIR) and the probe being carried out by the agency.

He has also sought striking down the presumption codified in section 24 of the PMLA which says that when a person is accused of having committed an offence under section 3 (money laundering), the burden of proving that proceeds of the crime are untainted property, shall be on the accused.

An FIR by CBI, filed on May 15 last year, had alleged irregularities in the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance to INX Media for receiving Rs 305 crore in overseas funds in 2007 when P Chidambaram was union finance minister.

Delhi HC extends Karti’s protection from arrest in ED case.

The Delhi High Court today extended the protection from arrest to Karti Chidambaram in the INX Media money laundering case from March 20 to 22.

A bench of justices S Muralidhar and I S Mehta changed the date of hearing from March 20 to 22 after Karti’s counsel said that senior advocate Kapil Sibal will not be available on March 20.

Sibal is representing Karti in the matter.

The Enforcement Directorate counsel Vinod Diwakar said he has instructions from Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Tushar Mehta that the ASG has no objection if the date of hearing is changed to March 22.

To this the bench said, “Since no objection has been expressed by the ED for changing the dates, the petition is fixed for hearing on March 22.”

The high court had on March 9 directed the ED not to arrest or take any coercive action against Karti, son of senior Congress leader P Chidambaram, till March 20 in the money laundering case.

Karti is presently lodged in Tihar jail in connection with CBI’s INX media corruption case relating to irregularities in the FIPB clearance given to the firm.

The ED has challenged in the Supreme Court the high court’s March 9 order granting interim protection to Karti and it is listed for hearing today.

Karti Chidambaram’s CA S Bhaskararaman remanded to 14-day judicial custody

 A Delhi court today sent Karti Chidambaram’s chartered accountant S Bhaskararaman, arrested in the INX Media money laundering case, to 14-day judicial custody.

Special judge N K Malhotra sent the chartered accountant (CA) to Tihar Jail after he was produced from the custody of the Enforcement Directorate (ED), whose special public prosecutor Nitesh Rana had sought three more days of custodial interrogation.

Bhaskararaman was arrested from a five-star hotel in the heart of the national capital on February 16.

Karti’s name had cropped up in the case which relates to Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) approval granted in 2007 for receipt of funds by INX Media when his father and senior Congress leader P Chidambaram was the Union finance minister during the previous UPA regime.

The ED had earlier claimed that during the course of investigation, it was revealed that Bhaskararaman, a qualified CA, had been assisting Karti to manage his “ill-gotten wealth” in India and abroad.

The agency had said the investigation required the presence of Bhaskararaman for collecting vital evidence and other information which was within his special knowledge and exclusive domain.

It had alleged that INX Media had deliberately and in violation of the conditions of the approval made a downstream investment of 26 per cent in the capital of INX News Pvt Ltd without specific approval of FIPB, which included indirect foreign investment by some foreign investors, and generated Rs 305 crore foreign direct investment in INX Media Pvt Ltd against the approved foreign inflow of Rs 4.62 crore.

To wriggle out of the situation without any punitive action, INX Media entered into a criminal conspiracy with Karti, the ED has alleged.

The FIPB unit of the finance ministry had not only granted illegal approval but also misinformed the investigation wing of Income Tax Department, it had alleged.