Karti Chidambaram, son of former finance minister P Chidambaram, who was arrested on Wednesday by the CBI in connection with the probe into the INX Media case, was later sent for one-day police custody by a Delhi court.
Though the CBI had sought 15-day remand of Karti, duty magistrate Sumeet Anand granted a day's custody, making it clear that he should be produced before the concerned special judge on Thursday at 2.30 pm.
Duty magistrate is a judge before whom an accused is produced when the concerned judge is not available or when an accused is produced after the regular court hours. In this case, the concerned special judge had left the court premises at around 4.30 pm, about 20 minutes before Karti was brought to the court.
Karti, who is 46-year-old, was arrested on Wednesday morning at Chennai airport after he landed there from London. He was produced before metropolitan magistrate Sumeet Anand at around 4.50 pm when the CBI sought his custody to for unearthing the "total conspiracy" in the INX Media case, claiming that he was not cooperating in the probe.
During the hearing, CBI's prosecutor VK Sharma told the court that Karti has not cooperated in the investigation and has been repeatedly travelling abroad which "confirmed apprehensions" that "he will flee" from the country.
He alleged that one of the grounds for arresting Karti was that the CBI had recorded a statement of Indrani Mukerjea, former Director of INX Media (P) Ltd, before a magistrate on 17 February in which she had said that Karti had "accepted one million dollars from INX Media" at the Hyatt Hotel in New Delhi.
Opposing the CBI's contentions, senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for Karti, said it was a "bizzare" case and no grounds for arrest were made out. "It is a bizzare case at the threshhold. It is not a case of arrest, leave aside police custody or judicial custody," Singhvi told the court while opposing the CBI's remand plea.
He also argued that Karti was summoned twice by the CBI on 23 and 28 August last year and he was interrogated for 22 hours by the agency.
Singhvi said, "there are no reasons given for the arrest. It is because you (CBI) want to show it to your bosses that you are doing some work."
"Unlike others, I (Karti) am not 'Hindustan leaver' and instead I am 'Hindustan returner'," Singhvi said on his clients behalf and claimed that Karti was cooperating with the CBI and the court might impose any condition while releasing him from the agency's custody.
"I (Karti) am not a fugitive," Singhvi, who was assisted by senior advocates Dayan Krishnan and Mohit Mathur, told the court.
The CBI, in its remand plea, has alleged that Karti had not cooperated in the investigation "until compelled to do so by the Supreme Court" and he "vehemently denied that he or his company had any interaction with INX Media on any matter including FIPB related matter despite evidence to the contrary".
"Thus, Karti Chidambaram needs to be subjected to sustained interrogation for unearthing the total conspiracy hatched in the case and also to find out the details of overseas payments received by him from INX Media as a quid pro quo for influence exercised by him over the public servants to scuttle the punitive action required to be taken against M/s INX Media (P) Ltd for the illegal acts of receiving excess investment than the approved FDI and also for making of downstream investment without the FIPB approval. For this purpose, his police custody remand for a period of 15 days is considered essential," the remand plea said.
The agency claimed that Karti's "frequent" visits abroad has confirmed "apprehensions of his tampering with the evidence lying abroad against him and others in the form of secret note received from the Ministry of Finance".
It said the "secret note" received from the finance ministry was also shown in a sealed cover to the apex court and the Madras High Court while objecting to Karti's foreign visits and justifying the look out circular (LoC) issued against him.
At the outset, the court allowed the request of Karti's lawyers to have an interaction with him inside the court room for 10 minutes, after which the proceedings resumed.
When Karti was brought from CBI headquarters to the Patiala House court premises and taken to the courtroom, he told waiting scribes, "It's absolutely a political vendetta. I will be vindicated".
The CBI had lodged an FIR on 15 May last year alleging irregularities in the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance to INX Media for receiving overseas funds to the tune of Rs 305 crore in 2007 when P Chidambaram was the Union finance minister. It also alleged that Karti had received funds to the tune of Rs 10 lakh in the case.
The case was lodged by CBI for alleged offences under sections 120-B (criminal conspiracy) read with 420 (cheating) of the IPC and under relevant provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act.
CBI also alleged that Karti had also received money from INX Media to scuttle a tax probe. The firm was owned at the time by Peter and Indrani Mukerjea, who are currently in jail on charges of allegedly murdering Indrani's daughter Sheena Bora. The Enforcement Directorate has also registered a money laundering case in the INX Media matter.
Opposition cries political witchhunt
As the Centre refused to interfere in the case, the Opposition at large said the Centre was trying to deflect attention from the bank scams by arresting Karti at a short notice. The Congress slammed the arrest and said the prime minister and his Cabinet were using political witchhunt and malicious intent to deflect heat from bank scam and losses to public exchequer. Congress leader Randeep Surjewala also said, "Political persecution of P Chidambaram and his son by puppet CBI to serve agenda of their political master is nothing but cog in this wheel." The Trinamool Congress also called the arrest a political witchhunt by the BJP.
Congress leader and senior advocate Kapil Sibal said on Wednesday that the arrest shows that the Indian investigating agencies are no longer a "caged parrot but a singing parrot" of the government. Sibal, who has been representing Karti in the legal battle before the Supreme Court, said this was a case of "pure vendetta" as the CBI was helpless and had to take refuge of a statement by Indrani Mukerjea, an accused charged with murdering her own daughter.
The Maharashtra Congress and the party's Mumbai city unit also flayed the arrest and said the Centre was "relying on statements of "habitual liar" Indrani in the matter.
On the other hand, the party said, despite India's biggest bank loot happening under his watch, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had not answered a single legitimate question on the subject.
"His silence on the entire saga raises serious questions about the role of the Narendra Modi government in the escape of (Punjab National Bank scam accused) Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi," Mumbai Congress president Sanjay Nirupam said. "It is condemnable that the BJP-led government will even manipulate a murder accused (Indrani) into levying random charges in exchange for leniency."
"The arrest of the son of the senior Congress leader, who has been very vocal against the Modi government, is a ploy to intimidate and browbeat the opposition and also an attempt to divert the public attention from the huge banking scam," senior Congress leader and former Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan told PTI.
With inputs from the agencies
Updated Date: Feb 28, 2018 22:39 PM