Supreme Court: The Enforcement Directorate has told the Court that custodial interrogation of senior Congress leader P Chidambaram in the INX media case is required as if his plea for anticipatory bail is given it would affect cases involving Vijay Mallya, Mehul Choksi, Neerav Modi and Zakir Naik.
Disputing the contention of Chidambaram’s lawyers, the agency also argued that the offence of money laundering is against the society, nation and the economy. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta appearing for the probe agency told a Bench of Justice R Banumathi and Justice AS Bopanna,
“Money laundering is an offence against society, nation and economy. Economic offences are gravest offences irrespective of quantum of sentence,”
Countering the arguments of Chidambaram’s advocates Kapil Sibal and Abhishek Manu Singhvi that Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) offences with seven years of punishment is not a grave offence because as per the Code of Criminal Procedure grave offences entail death penalty and life, Mehta said money laundering offences are “grave”. He said,
“Chidambaram’s counsels have argued that gravity of an offence is subjective. PMLA offences may not be grave for them but the Courts have consistently held that economic offences are grave in nature. Gravity is a relative concept. Quantum of punishment is not relevant. What’s important is what will be the impact of your offence in society. Money laundering is an offence against the society, nation and economy. Economic offences are gravest offences irrespective of quantum of sentence,”
The Court was hearing Chidambaram’s plea against Delhi High Court’s order denying anticipatory bail to him in a case being probed by the ED.
SG also objected to the proposition made by Chidambaram’s counsel Kapil Sibal to confront him with evidence before presenting it in the court, saying it is “absurd” and would have “devastating results” and is “preposterous”. He added,
“Whether the accused’s reply was evasive or not is decided by investigating agency and not by the court”
SG also contended that if accused at large is confronted with the evidence collected, then the agency will have exposed its evidence and witnesses and it will give a chance to the accused to tamper with evidence and erase the money trail.
“The investigating agency has absolute discretion to what extent to reveal the evidence to the accused. It is best to confront the accused with evidence when he is in custody,”
He further said that investigation is an art where the agency brings the accused to divulge details and not a mere question and answer format or an interview. He also argued that if given an anticipatory bail, Chidambaram may erase the money trail, influence the witnesses and tamper with evidence.
“It’s impossible to investigate when he’s armed with anticipatory bail. It’s ED’s right and duty to unearth the truth. It would be difficult for the ED to catch him if he is under a protective umbrella and best way to elicit truth is when an accused is not under a protective umbrella,”
In 2017, the Central Bureau of Investigation had registered an FIR alleging irregularities in the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance was given to INX Media to the tune of Rs 305 crore in 2007 when Chidambaram was the Union finance minister.
Following the FIR filed by CBI, ED had filed a case of money laundering against him.