The Enforcement Directorate has told the Supreme Court that it has begun a probe into former Union Minister P Chidambaram's wills made in favour of his granddaughter, after the Delhi High Court dismissed the former Finance Minister's bail on November 15.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told a three-judge bench headed by Justice R. Banumathi that after the high court twice examined the judicial custody of Chidambaram, he wanted the court to deny him bail after studying all the facts brought before it.
“Moreover, the respondent (ED) has examined the petitioner-accused at least twice during the judicial custody, after the order of Delhi High Court.
“The petitioner was confronted with the rest of the evidence of illegal gratification in INX Media case, the wills made in favour of his granddaughter by the directors of ASCPL and the statements of the persons concerned in the case,” said the ED in its affidavit opposing Chidambaram bail.
During the course of the search and scrutiny of the digital data, it was revealed that directors and shareholders of Advantage Strategic Consulting Pvt Ltd (a “benami” company of the petitioner and his son), India (which is holding company of Advantage Strategic Consulting Singapore Pte. Ltd., Singapore) later on in the year 2013 transferred their entire shareholding of M/s Advantage Strategic Consulting Pvt. Ltd. to the granddaughter of petitioner by way of a will.
“During the course of an investigation when one of the co-conspirators was asked to produce the original copy of the will, he stated in his statement 23.02.2018 that original copy of the will was destroyed at the instance of the son of the petitioner (Karti P. Chidambaram, another conspirator)”, said the ED affidavit.
Mehta also told the apex court the investigating agency is also probing the complex web of shell companies, used for money laundering, all located outside the country, and 12 accounts and 12 properties in 16 foreign countries.
“The investigation in the present case is at a very crucial stage. Revealing the names of witnesses at this stage may hamper the investigation,” said ED in the affidavit.
Chidambaram was arrested by the CBI in the INX Media case on August 21. The CBI had registered an FIR on May 15, 2017, alleging corruption in approvals granted by the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) to the INX Media group for overseas fund of Rs 305 crore in 2007 during his tenure as Finance Minister.
Tushar Mehta told the Supreme Court that Chidambaram’s mere presence “evokes fear” in witnesses. The ED has opposed the bail plea of Chidambaram in the INX Media money laundering case.
Mehta told a three-judge bench headed by Justice R. Banumathi that whether in custody or not, former Finance Minister Chidambaram is powerful enough to wield influence on witnesses involved in the case. “One of the witnesses has written a letter, and the other two have requested, please do not bring us face to face with him….in fact, his presence may influence the prosecution,” Mehta contended before the court.
Citing the gravity of the economic offences, Mehta told the court that the entire world is facing the menace of money laundering.
Mehta told the bench, also comprising Justices A.S. Bopanna and Hrishikesh Roy, that the ED probe has uncovered 12 bank accounts where proceeds of crime were deposited and the agency has also gathered the details of 12 properties, with specific addresses, which have been together tracked down in 16 countries.
Chidambaram has moved the apex court challenging the Delhi High Court judgement denying him bail in the case. Mehta told the apex court that economic offence is a separate class of offence graver than murder, and it is a white-collar crime, which has the potential to shake the faith of the common man in the establishment.
Mehta also emphasised that Chidambaram’s son Karti Chidambaram is yet to be arrested in the ED case.
The ED insisted that after investigations in the INX Media case, it is turning out that more FIPB approvals were given by Chidambaram while he was Finance Minister.
“A common man’s faith in the establishment is shaken unless we bring probity in public life,” said Mehta insisting that a separate standard should apply to people holding high office and involved in such serious economic offences.
Tushar Mehta also said the Enforcement Directorate is waiting to arrest Karti Chidambaram, son of senior Congress leader P. Chidambaram, who was also present in the courtroom during the hearing on the bail application of his father.
Mehta arguing before a three-judge bench headed by Justice R. Banumathi said the investigating agency is waiting for the lifting of Delhi High Court stay on the arrest of Karti. He insisted that Karti has challenged few provisions of Prevention of Money Laundering Act in Delhi High Court.
Karti was expressionless during this argument, and instead, he was looking at the judges on the bench.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Chidambaram, contested this ED’s argument that he has been unfairly kept in judicial custody for nearly 100 days because he is the father of Karti, who is a key accused in the case.
Chidambaram was arrested by the CBI on August 21 in the INX Media corruption case and on October 22 he was granted bail by the top court. (IANS)