Karti Chidambaram, son of former union minister P. Chidambaram, being escorted by police personnel along with CBI officials to the Patiala House Courts in New Delhi, Feb. 28. (Arun Sharma/PTI)
A Delhi court allowed custodial interrogation of Karti Chidambaram, March 1, by the CBI for five days, saying there was a need to unearth the larger conspiracy in the INX Media case and his presence would serve some important purposes connected with the investigation, write Udayan Kishor and Aditi Gupta.
The court said Karti’s CBI custody was necessary to confront him with documents and co-accused, as well as to probe the role of others involved in the case, while the agency maintained that three mobile phones have been recovered from him which needed to be examined.
The CBI claimed Karti has to be confronted with the statement of various witnesses including former RBI governor D. Subba Rao, who had then headed a committee which dealt with the FIPB issue of INX Media before the approval was granted.
He was produced before the special CBI judge who allowed him to meet his parents, P. Chidambaram and Nalini Chidambaram, both senior advocates, and his lawyers who were present in the courtroom. The court’s decision came after over three hours of proceedings.
Special Judge Sunil Rana noted that the matter was at an initial stage of investigation, which is a very crucial stage, and as per the case diary and day-to-day reports of the probe, the CBI’s claim was based on the ground that there were prima facie material showing his involvement that required further investigation.
“I am of the view that the police custody of accused Karti Chidambaram is necessary to confront the accused with documents, co-accused and to unearth the larger conspiracy and role of other accused persons involved in the case. Hence, it would be appropriate to grant further custody to CBI. Accordingly, accused Karti Chidambaram is remanded to five-day police custody,” the judge said.
The court said it is clear that the presence of the accused was actually needed in order to serve some important and specific purposes connected with the completion of probe.
“It is true that a general statement by the officer applying for the remand that the accused may be able to give further information should not be accepted. However, in a case where nothing could be extracted during the remand, granting of further police custody remand is necessary,” the court said while referring to a judgement.
The court directed that Karti be produced before the court on March 6 and asked the investigating officer to get him medically examined every 24 hours during custody.
Further, Karti would be at liberty to seek the assistance of his counsel during police custody remand, one hour each in the morning and evening. He was also permitted to carry medicines on prescription with him but denied home food.
Karti was arrested Feb. 28 at Chennai Airport on his return from the United Kingdom, in connection with the FIR lodged on May 15 last year alleging irregularities in Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance to INX Media for receiving overseas funds worth about Rs. 305 crore in 2007 when his father was the union finance minister.
The fresh evidence in the case, which triggered Karti’s arrest, was based on the statement of Indrani Mukerjea, former director of INX Media (P) Ltd., who recorded it under section 164 of CrPC before a magistrate on Feb. 17.
Karti was produced before a duty magistrate, Feb. 28, who had remanded him to a day’s custody which expired March 1.
His remand came after high-voltage arguments lasting over three hours during which the probe agency contended that there were “very shocking evidences” of what he has done when he went abroad and alleging “when he went abroad, he closed bank accounts in which funds were received.”
Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for CBI, maintained that this was “not a case of political vendetta” and the investigation was going on in accordance with Article 21 of the Constitution.
Mehta said even though Karti did not complain of any uneasiness during his regular medical check-up Feb. 28, doctors at the Safdarjung Hospital had sent him to cardiac care unit and he was brought to the CBI office on March 1.
Due to his hospitalization, the CBI’s one-day custody was virtually wasted as it got Karti’s custody only at 7:30 pm, Feb. 28, and he returned from the hospital March 1, he said.
Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who is leading a team of lawyers for Karti, contended, “there is not an iota of evidence against Karti. He is being arrested despite complying with court orders repeatedly.”
He asked if Karti had done something illegal while being abroad, why didn’t CBI file a contempt petition before the court which allowed his foreign trip.
The CBI said that in May 2007, the first FIPB approval was given to INX Media and in April 2008, this reference was made in the Finance Ministry.
From June 2008 onwards, the payment of the bribe money was started. The second FIPB approval was given on November 2, 2008. “We are investigating whether the April 2008 reference was a ‘pressure technique,’” the CBI contended following Singhvi’s claim that it was P. Chidambaram who had himself ordered a probe in the matter when he was the finance minister.