New Delhi: A Delhi court on Wednesday sent two Zee News journalists to two days’ police remand even as Delhi Police asked Zee Group chairman Subhash Chandra to join the probe into the extortion claims made against the channel by Jindal Group. The channel said the arrests were “illegal” and done under pressure from the industrial group owned by Congress MP Naveen Jindal.
Metropolitan Magistrate Gaumti Manocha sent the two journalists – Sudhir Chaudhary, head of Zee News, and Samir Ahluwalia, head of Zee Business, to two days custody of Crime Branch of Delhi Police and dismissed their bail plea.
The two were arrested here Tuesday on charges of attempting to extort Rs 100 crore from Jindal Power and Steel Ltd. in exchange for not filing news reports linking the firm to the irregular coal blocks allocation.
Delhi Police had sought three days’ custody of the journalists to interrogate them, and said that while reporting on the matter Zee News misreported facts and “there was an element of deception involved”.
The police registered a case against both the journalists under Sections 384(extortion), 120 (b) (criminal conspiracy) and 511 (punishment for attempting to commit offences punishable with imprisonment for life or other imprisonment) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Before arresting Chaudhary and Ahluwalia on Tuesday police also charged them under Section 420 (cheating).
During the hearing, advocate Rebecca John appearing for the journalists told the court that both the journalists are innocent and respectable individuals in the society.
The counsel denied Jindal Group’s allegations that the two journalists had attempted to extort Rs 100 crore from the company.
“Money was never involved in the case and there was no deal. Where is the crime?” She told the court that the meeting between the Jindal Power and Steel Ltd (JPSL) officials and the two journalists was held only because the company’s officials had called both the journalists, and her clients had not made any deal with JPSL.
But the police told the court that Chairman Subhash Chandra and Managing Director Punit Goenka are also accused in the case. They said that Chandra was complicit in the demand for money.
The Public Prosecutor Rajiv Mohan said police have the video and audio recording as evidence against the journalists demanding money from Jindal group. The police added that both had contacted Subhash Chandra, which reflected his involvement in the case.
Meanwhile, the police asked Subhash Chandra to join investigation Wednesday, but as he did not turn up they will ask him again Thursday.
The channel vehemently denied all allegations of extortion levelled against its two journalists and said police were being forced to act on the matter under pressure from Congress MP Naveen Jindal and his associates.
Zee News Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Alok Agarwal alleged that Jindal had offered money to Zee journalists.
“Our channel raised fundamental questions about coal blocks allocated to the Jindal Group. Jindal’s mother pleaded with us to play down the coalgate,” he said at a press conference.
The Jindal Group filed an extortion complaint against the Zee journalists on 2 October.
Jindal, who is chairman of Jindal Power and Steel Ltd, (JPSL), had earlier claimed that the Zee executives had demanded Rs 20 crore for four years and they secretly filmed the meetings. They later raised the demand to Rs 100 crore for not broadcasting stories against the company in relation to the allocation of coal blocks, Jindal alleged.
JPSL is among the companies named in the Comptroller and Auditor General’s report as one of the beneficiaries of the controversial coal blocks allocation.
Zee News last month sent a Rs 150 crore defamation notice to the Congress MP, who too had filed a Rs 200 crore suit against the media conglomerate, claiming that the TV channel had tried to extort money from his company.
Delhi Bharatiya Janata Party leader Vijay Jolly in a statement condemned the “unfair and direct attack on investigative journalism”. He said the “unsavory event is reminiscent of the dark days of emergency”.