NEW DELHI – Former finance minister P Chidambaram Thursday moved the Supreme Court seeking bail in the INX Media corruption case saying his continuing incarceration is in the “form of punishment” and liberty of an individual cannot be denied on the basis of “anonymous and unverified allegations”.
Chidambaram, who is lodged in Tihar jail in the case, has said that “bail is the rule, jail is the exception” and courts should frown upon the attempt of the prosecution to use judicial custody as “a kind of pre-trial punishment”.
Citing “frail” health, the 74-year-old senior Congress leader has also said that he is not “accustomed” to food given to him in the jail and has lost 4 kg weight in during his judicial custody.
Challenging the Delhi High Court’s September 30 verdict rejecting his bail plea, Chidambaram said he had never attempted to approach or influence any witnesses or accused in the case.
The high court had dismissed his bail plea saying the investigation was at an advanced stage and the possibility of his influencing the witnesses cannot be ruled out.
A Delhi court meanwhile extended his judicial custody in the case on Thursday to October 17
In his plea in the apex court, Chidambaram said, “Bail is the rule, jail is the exception. Arrest and custody are a humiliation and social stigma. The prosecution seems to think that prolonged judicial custody is a punishment they can impose on the Petitioner. Courts should frown upon the attempt of the prosecution to use judicial custody as a kind of pre-trial punishment.”
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Chidambaram, mentioned the petition for urgent listing before a bench of justices N V Ramana, Sanjiv Khanna and Krishna Murari.
The bench told him that the matter would be placed before Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and he would take a call on its listing.
Chidambaram, who was finance minister as well as home minister in the UPA government from 2004 to 2014, was arrested by the CBI from his Jor Bagh residence here on August 21.
The CBI had registered an FIR on May 15, 2017, alleging irregularities in the 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 in this regard in 2017.
In his plea in the top court, Chidambaram has said that “conclusive findings” have been rendered by the high court on the basis of documents placed before it in a “sealed envelope” by the CBI, which were neither part of the record nor shown to him, and he was not given an opportunity to rebut the same.
He said that high court has “erred” in dismissing his bail plea on a mere apprehension that he might influence the witnesses, without any supporting material, and on the basis of unverified allegations that do not allege or point anything against him.
He also denied the high court’s finding that INX Media’s former promoters Indrani and Peter Mukherjea had met him and “illegal gratification” was paid.
“At the outset, firstly, the petitioner (Chidambaram) denies having approached or influenced any witness or accused or even made an attempt to do so, directly or indirectly,” he said.
“Secondly, it appears that the above finding (of the high court) is based on alleged statements made by two alleged accused persons and hence can never be read against the petitioner (co-accused) and can in law never tantamount to influencing a witness,” he said in his plea.
Chidambaram has further said that case does not relate to “economic offence” and there is no loss to public exchequer.
He also denied the high court’s finding that large amount of money had come into the companies owned or controlled by alleged co-conspirator and his son Karti Chidambaram.
The plea said, “It is submitted that petitioner (Chidambaram) is neither a shareholder or director in any of the said companies. There is not even an iota of evidence that the petitioner has any relation with the said companies or has received any money or illegal gratification.”
He said that other accused in the case, including Karti, have already been granted bail or interim protection by the courts and it would be “manifestly unjust and illegal” to deny him the relief.
“The liberty of an individual cannot be denied on the basis of anonymous and unverified allegations. It will violate the ‘procedure established by law’ required under Article 21 of the Constitution,” the plea said, adding that Chidambaram was not even named in the FIR lodged in the case.
“The antecedents of the petitioner are impeccable. There is no possibility of his fleeing from justice,” the plea said, adding that the high court had itself said that there is no chance of him tampering with evidence as it is documentary in nature and already in custody of the probe agency.
He has urged the apex court to grant him interim bail till his appeal is decided.
In its verdict, the high court had said it cannot be disputed that if the case is proved against Chidambaram, the offence is on society, economy, financial stability and integrity of the country.
Chidambaram is not a “flight risk” and there is no chance of tampering with evidence but he can influence the witnesses if granted bail, it had said.
The high court had said it was on record that illegal gratification has been paid by and through other companies by Indrani and Peter to the firms controlled and owned by the “co-conspirator and co-accused Karti”. (PTI)