Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The Bench comprising of R. Banumathi, A.S. Bopanna and Hrishikesh Roy, JJ., addressed the appeal filed by the former Finance Minister, P. Chidambaram assailing the final order passed by Delhi High Court wherein regular bail to the appellant was declined.

Genesis of the Case [Brief Facts]

Following is the chain of events that occurred and led to the present Appeal:

FIR registered by CBI under Section 120-B read with Section 420 IPC and Sections 8 and 13(2) read with Section 13 (1) (d) of PC Act against some unknown and known suspects with allegations that INX Media (P) Ltd. sought approval of Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) for permission to issue by way of preferential allotment, certain equity and convertible, non-cumulative, redeemable preference shares for engaging in the business of creating, operating, managing and broadcasting of bouquet of television channels.

 Company also sought approval to make downstream financial investment. FIPB recommended the proposal of INX Media for consideration and approval of the Finance Minister, however, Board did not approve of the same.

Later, in a press release issued by FIPB Unit, the details of FDI/NRI inflow against INX Media was shown as Rs 4.62 Crores in the release. Contrary to the approval of FIPB, INX Media (P) Ltd. made a downstream investment to the extent of 26% capital of INX News and generated more than Rs 305 Crores against the approved foreign inflow of Rs 4.62 Crores.

FIPB Unit sought clarifications from INX Media Limited. Further INX Media in order to avoid punitive action entered into a criminal conspiracy with Karti Chidambaram –Accused 3 in the FIR.

Accused 3 is alleged to have exercised his influence over the officials of FIPB unit which led to showing undue favour to INX News (P) Ltd. Thereafter deliberately concealing the investment received in INX Media (P) Ltd., INX News (P) Ltd. again approached the FIPB Unit and sought permission for downstream investment. The stated proposal was considered by the officials of the Ministry of Finance and approved by the then Finance Minister.

Karti Chidambaram in lieu of services rendered to INX Group, received consideration in the form of payments.

Appellant who was the then Finance Minister has not been named in the said FIR.

Respondent Directorate of Enforcement registered a case (ECIR case) on the basis of the above-mentioned FIR under Section 3 of Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 punishable under Section 4against the accused mentioned in the FIR. Appellant’s name was not named in this case as well.

Appellant apprehending his arrest filed an application before the Delhi High Court seeking grant of anticipatory bail. Further, the Delhi High Court extended the interim protection of the appellant.

Appellant then approached the Supreme Court wherein while dismissing his appeal, Court concluded that grant of anticipatory bail will hamper the investigation.

While above circumstances and chain of events were happening, appellant was now arrested in the CBI case, which has been mentioned earlier.

Later, on 16-10-2019 appellant was arrested in the ECIR case on the grounds that payment of approximately Rs 3 crores was made at the appellant’s instance to the companies controlled by Karti Chidambaram on account of FIPB work done for INX Group.

Appellant further moved his application with respect to surrender before the Trial Court in the ECIR Case, for which again his application was rejected on behalf of the respondent Directorate that t was not willing to arrest the appellant at that particular stage.

Thereafter, Respondent-Directorate moved an application under Section 267 CrPC wherein it sought issuance of production warrant against the appellant for the purpose of arrest and remand.

On 23-10-2019, appellant moved a regular bail application before the High Court, wherein he stated that he merely accorded approval to the unanimous recommendation made by the FIPB, anyone familiar with the working of FIPB would know that no single officer can take a decision on any proposal. Therefore, it is preposterous to allege that any person could have influenced any official of FIPB.

Adding to the above, he submitted that ECIR case is a verbatim copy of the FIR and thus the Special Judge erred in granting remand of the appellant in the ECIR case since the offences allegedly committed in both the cases arise out of the same occurrence and have been committed in the course of the same transaction. Special Court erred in not accepting the surrender application.

Further, High Court concluded that prima facie allegations are serious in nature and appellant ahs played a key role in the present case. On the basis of these observations, High Court dismissed the bail application.

Senior Counsel, Kapil Sibal and Dr Abhishek Manu Singhvi represented the appellant.

Senior Counsels representing the appellant submitted that:

  • High Court erred in law in going into and rendering findings on merits of the case in order to deny bail to the appellant despite the settled position of law that merits of a case ought not to be gone into at the time of adjudication of a bail application.
  • High Court erred in accepting at face value the allegations made on merits of the case in the counter affidavit filed by the respondent and converting such allegations verbatim into findings by the Court and declining to grant bail to the appellant solely on the basis of said findings.
  • No material linking the appellant directly or indirectly has been placed on record before the High Court.
  • All the other ECIR case accused’s have either been granted bail or have not been arrested.
  • Appellant’s health continues to deteriorate and with the onset of the cold weather, the appellant will become more vulnerable.

 “Gravity of an offence is to be determined from the severity of the prescribed punishment.”

Conclusion

“Basic jurisprudence relating to bail remains the same inasmuch as the grant of bail is the rule and refusal is the exception so as to ensure that the accused has the opportunity of securing fair trial.”

Court, had disapproved of the manner in which the learned Judge of the High Court in the said case had verbatim quoted a note produced by the respondent. If that be the position, in the instant case, the learned Judge while adverting to the materials, ought not to have recorded a finding based on the material produced before him.

On perusal of the documents submitted by the respondent, Court noted that statements of persons concerned have been recorded and the details collected have been collated.

It has been further noted by the Court that the appellant has not been named as one of the accused in the ECIR but the allegation while being made against the co-accused it is indicated that the appellant who was the Finance Minister at that point, aided the illegal transactions since of the co-accused (Karti Chidambaram) is the son of the appellant. Thus, the complicity of the appellant will have to be established in the trial and if convicted, the appellant will undergo sentence.

Thus, considering and noting the age and health of the appellant, Court stated that the availability of the appellant for further investigation, interrogation and facing trial is not jeopardized and he is already held to be not a ‘flight risk’ and there is no possibility of tampering the evidence, therefore he is entitled to be granted bail.

Gist of the Order to be noted here:

  • Delhi High Court’s Judgment is set aside and present appeal is allowed.
  • Appellant granted bail with the execution of bail of Rs 2 lakhs.
  • Appellant shall not leave the country without specific orders to be passed by the learned Special Judge.
  • appellant shall not tamper with the evidence or attempt to intimidate or influence the witnesses;
  • Appellant shall not give any press interviews nor make any public comment in connection with this case qua him or other co-accused.

[P. Chidambaram v. Directorate of Enforcement, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 1549, decided on 04-12-2019]

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Supreme Court: The bench of R Banumathi, A S Bopanna and Hrishikesh Roy, JJ has  sought a response from the Enforcement Directorate (ED) on an appeal filed by former union finance minister P Chidambaram challenging the Delhi High Court ‘s order dismissing his bail petition in the INX Media money laundering case. The Court issued a notice to the probe agency and posted the matter for hearing to November 26.

Chidambaram sought bail in a case pertaining to the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance given to INX Media to the tune of Rs 305 crore in 2007 by Chidambaram when he was the Finance Minister. He was arrested by the ED on October 16 and is currently in judicial custody. Denying bail  to Chidambaram in the case, the High Court had stated that prima facie allegations against him are “serious in nature” and he played an “active and key role” in the offence.

Senior advocates Kapil Sibal and Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing on behalf of Chidambaram today, submitted before the top court that their client has been in jail for over 90 days and has cleared the triple test criterion to avail the bail. Chidambaram had sought bail on the health grounds. The Congress leader also asserted that no part of the triple test, which includes flight risk, influencing witnesses and tampering with evidence, has been made out against him. He stated that there was no allegation that he was a flight risk following the issuance of a Look out Circular (LOC).

On October 22, 2019, the bench had granted bail to former Finance Minister and senior Congress leader P Chidambaram in connection with the INX Media case registered by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

The Court noticed that Chidambaram was neither a “flight risk” nor there was possibility of his abscondence and said that Chidambaram

“being the Member of Parliament and a Senior Member of the Bar has strong roots in society and his passport having been surrendered and “look out notice” issued against him, there is no likelihood of his fleeing away from the country or his abscondence from the trial.”

(Source: ANI)

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The 3-judge bench of R Banumathi, AS Bopanna and Hrishikesh Roy, JJ has granted bail to former Finance Minister and senior Congress leader P Chidambaram in connection with the INX Media case registered by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

Chidambaram is currently in the custody of Enforcement Directorate (ED) till October 24 in the INX Media money laundering case. Chidambaram, who is currently in judicial custody in Tihar jail, had filed a Special Leave Petition (SLP) in the apex court days after the High Court dismissed his bail plea contending that he might influence the witnesses in the case.

When the Solicitor General  Tushar Mehta submitted before the Court that “flight risk” of economic offenders should be looked at as a national phenomenon and be dealt with in that manner merely because certain other offenders have flown out of the country, the Court said that the same cannot, be put in a straight-jacket formula so as to deny bail to the one who is before the Court, due to the conduct of other offenders, if the person under consideration is otherwise entitled to bail on the merits of his own case. Hence, such consideration including as to “flight risk” is to be made on individual basis being uninfluenced by the unconnected cases, more so, when the personal liberty is involved.

The Court noticed that Chidambaram was neither a “flight risk” nor there was possibility of his abscondence and said that Chidambaram

“being the Member of Parliament and a Senior Member of the Bar has strong roots in society and his passport having been surrendered and “look out notice” issued against him, there is no likelihood of his fleeing away from the country or his abscondence from the trial.”

On the allegation of possibility of influencing the witnesses, the Court noticed,

“Till the date, there has been no allegation regarding influencing of any witness by the appellant or his men directly or indirectly. In the number of remand applications, there was no whisper that any material witness has been approached not to disclose information about the appellant and his son. It appears that only at the time of opposing the bail and in the counter affidavit filed by the CBI before the High Court, the averments were made.”

The Court observed that CBI has no direct evidence against Chidambaram regarding the allegation of appellant directly or indirectly influencing the witnesses. It further noticed that the conclusion of the learned Single Judge of Delhi High Court “…that it cannot be ruled out that the petitioner will not influence the witnesses directly or indirectly……” is not substantiated by any materials and is only a generalised apprehension and appears to be speculative. It, hence, held,

“Mere averments that the appellant approached the witnesses and the assertion that the appellant would further pressurize the witnesses, without any material basis cannot be the reason to deny regular bail to the appellant; more so, when the appellant has been in custody for nearly two months, co-operated with the investigating agency and the charge sheet is also filed.”

Setting aside the Delhi High Court judgment, the Court, hence, directed that Chidambaram be released on bail if not required in another case subject to the condition of his executing bail bonds for a sum of Rs.1,00,000/- with two sureties of like sum to the satisfaction of the Special CBI Judge. The Court further directed,

“The passport if already not deposited, shall be deposited with the Special Court and Chidambaram shall not leave the country without leave of the Special Court and subject to the order that may be passed by the Special Judge from time to time. He shall make himself available for interrogation as and when required.”

[P. Chidambaram v. Central Bureau of Investigation, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 1380, decided on 22.10.2019\

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Supreme Court: Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram on Thursday moved the Supreme Court against the order of the Delhi High Court that dismissed his bail plea in the INX Media case. Chidambaram, who is currently in judicial custody in Tihar jail, filed a Special Leave Petition (SLP) before the Supreme Court earlier today, days after the High Court dismissed his bail plea contending that he might influence the witnesses in the case.

Refuting the contentions put forth by the high court, Chidambaram asserted that he has not influenced any witness or accused in the case.

“A mere apprehension without there being substantial evidence and particulars of an accused approaching any witness is not enough to deny bail to an accused,”

Alluding to certain inputs submitted by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to the court in a sealed cover, the petition stated,

“The liberty has thus been denied on the basis of the baseless, anonymous and unverified allegation made behind the petitioner’s back.”

Chidambaram said that the submissions made by the agency in the sealed cover were “highly objectionable and against all canons of fair play and justice”. The petition also stated that the FIR registered in 2015, did not name Chidambaram. The plea asserted that there was no reference or allegation against him in the FIR.

Chidambaram is facing probe for alleged irregularities in the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance given to INX Media to the tune of Rs 305 crore in 2007 when he was the Union finance minister. While the CBI is probing the corruption allegations, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) is looking into money laundering allegations against him in the case. The CBI had arrested Chidambaram on August 21 following which he was sent to judicial custody, which is slated to end today.

(Source: ANI)

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In a major blow to Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram, the Court has rejected his plea against the Delhi High Court order rejecting his anticipatory bail plea in the INX Media case being probed by Enforcement Directorate (ED). The bench of R Banumathi and AR Bopanna, JJ said,

“In a case of money-laundering where it involves many stages of “placement”, “layering i.e. funds moved to other institutions to conceal origin” and “interrogation i.e. funds used to acquire various assets”, it requires systematic and analysed investigation which would be of great advantage.”

The Court was hearing Chidambaram’s plea against the Delhi High Court order rejecting his anticipatory bail plea in the INX Media case involving alleged irregularities in Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance given to the INX Media for receiving foreign investment to the tune of Rs.305 crores against approved inflow of Rs.4.62 crores.

Delhi High Court had denied the bail on 2 factors, namely, (i) gravity of the offence; and (ii) the appellant was “evasive” to deny the anticipatory bail. Taking strong exception against the said grounds, Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, argued that,

  • the “gravity of the offence” cannot be the perception of the individual or the court and the test for “gravity of the offence” should be the punishment prescribed by the statute for the offence committed.
  • Insofar as the finding of the High Court that “the appellant was evasive to the questions”, the investigating agency Enforcement Directorate cannot expect an accused to give answers in the manner they want and that the accused is entitled to protection under Article 20(3) of the Constitution of India.

The Court, however, noticed that ordinarily, arrest is a part of the process of the investigation intended to secure several purposes. There may be circumstances in which the accused may provide information leading to discovery of material facts and relevant information. Grant of anticipatory bail may hamper the investigation.

“Pre-arrest bail is to strike a balance between the individual’s right to personal freedom and the right of the investigating agency to interrogate the accused as to the material so far collected and to collect more information which may lead to recovery of relevant information.”

Stating that Section 438 Cr.P.C. is to be invoked only in exceptional cases where the case alleged is frivolous or groundless, the Court noticed that in the case in hand, there are allegations of laundering the proceeds of the crime and that the Enforcement Directorate claims to have certain specific inputs from various sources, including overseas banks. It, hence, held that grant of anticipatory bail, particularly in economic offences would definitely hamper the effective investigation.

“Having regard to the materials said to have been collected by the respondent-Enforcement Directorate and considering the stage of the investigation, we are of the view that it is not a fit case to grant anticipatory bail.”

The Court, however, clarified that

“As and when the application for regular bail is filed, the same shall be considered by the learned trial court on its own merits and in accordance with law without being influenced by any of the observations made in this judgment and the impugned order of the High Court.”

Meanwhile, the CBI special court has sent former union minister P. Chidambaram to judicial custody till 19 September in the money-laundering and corruption case related to the INX Media scam.

[P. Chidambaram v. Directorate of Enforcement, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 1143, decided on 05.09.2019]

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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.

(Source: ANI)

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Supreme Court: The bench of R Banumathi and A S Bopanna, JJ has extended till tomorrow the interim protection from arrest granted to senior Congress leader P Chidambaram in a money laundering case filed by the Enforcement Directorate in the alleged INX media scam.

The Court was hearing a Special Leave Petition (SLP) moved by Chidambaram against the Delhi High Court order denying him anticipatory bail in the ED case. The hearing in the case will continue tomorrow.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta is likely to make submissions on the application filed by the Kapil Sibal, counsel of Chidambaram, seeking a direction to the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to produce his client’s statement recorded by them in the case.

A Special court had yesterday extended the CBI remand of the Congress leader by four days in a corruption case filed by the CBI in INX media scam. The agency had sought an extension contending that they have to “unravel the larger conspiracy”.

In 2017, the CBI had registered an FIR alleging irregularities in the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance 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.

(Source: ANI)

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Supreme Court:  The bench of R Banumathi and A S Bopanna, JJ has extended the protection from arrest given to former finance minister P Chidambaram in the INX Media money laundering case lodged by the Enforcement Directorate till Tuesday. The bench also dismissed the petition filed by senior Congress leader P. Chidambaram for anticipatory bail in the corruption case lodged by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), saying the plea has become “infructuous” as he had already been arrested.

The bench will continue hearing on Tuesday the petition of Chidambaram challenging the Delhi High Court order which had rejected his anticipatory bail plea in the money laundering case.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Chidambaram completed his arguments and said he will file the rejoinder to the ED’s counter affidavit.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for ED, said he will advance his arguments Tuesday and the bench posted the matter for hearing at noon tomorrow.

During the pre-lunch session, Sibal said that fair trial and fair investigation were part of Article 21 and the court must protect the fundamental right of liberty of Chidambaram. He strongly objected to Mehta’s argument to place on record certain documents in sealed cover for the perusal of the bench.

He said that Chidambaram was examined thrice by the ED — on December 19, 2018, January 1, 2019 and January 21, 2019 — but the questions related to the allegations levelled by the ED against him were not put to him.

The CBI had registered an FIR 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 against him in 2017.

Sibal said FIPB consisted of six secretaries of the government, and Chidambaram had only signed the approval as the then finance minister. He further argued,

“The ED has alleged the use of shell companies in the matter but no such firm is directly or indirectly connected to Chidambaram,”

He also said that Chidambaram was not named in the ED’s FIR and no allegations were levelled against him.

Chidambaram, 73, headed the ministries of finance and home during the UPA regime.

(Source: India Today)

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Supreme Court: The Court has said that it will hear the appeal filed by former union minister P Chidambaram against the Delhi High Court’s order rejecting his anticipatory bail plea in the INX media case being probed by the CBI on August 26.

During the hearing, when the Court asked litigant’s advocate Kapil Sibal if he wants to argue, he said, “Yes, I want to argue.” Citing the notice posted by the probe agency on Tuesday outside Chidambaram’s residence asking him to present himself within two hours of the receipt of the summon, Sibal said his client moved the Supreme Court soon after the development and also intimidated the CBI. Sibal added that his client’s right under Article 21 cannot be denied. He said,

“Chidambaram is in five days of police remand by the CBI. I challenge that order,”

Thereafter, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who argued for central probe agency said,

“Chidambaram’s plea doesn’t survive since he is in CBI’s custody”.

After hearing the arguments from both the sides, Justice R Banumathi said that the appeal filed by Chidambaram will be heard on August 26. “In ED matter Chidambaram has not been arrested,” she said.

On August 21, the Delhi High Court had dismissed Chidambaram’s plea for anticipatory bail. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Enforcement Directorate (ED) had issued look-out notices against him on Wednesday in the INX media case. A special anti-corruption court on Thursday sent the Congress leader to CBI custody till August 26.

In 2017, the CBI had registered an FIR alleging irregularities in the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance given to INX Media to the tune of Rs 305 crore in 2007 when Chidambaram was the Union Finance Minister.

(Source: ANI)