The Congress party accused the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party of a “shameless witch-hunt” as former finance minister P Chidambaram was yesterday remanded in custody on corruption allegations.
Chidambaram, 73, was arrested in a dramatic late-night swoop on Wednesday by officers from the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
The officers scaled the boundary wall of his upscale residence in central New Delhi before escorting him to the CBI headquarters where he was questioned for hours.
Chidambaram is facing claims he received bribes in exchange for foreign investment clearances to INX Media company.
He is also accused of money laundering and illegally approving the acquisition of a telecommunications firm by a Malaysian company.
His son Karti Chidambaram and several government officials are being investigated over their role in the scandals.
Yesterday, Chidambaram was produced before a special CBI court where his lawyers argued that there was no evidence against the Congress veteran.
Chidambaram has always denied any wrongdoing.
The prosecution sought more time to question him and establish a “money trail”.
The judge ruled that under the circumstances, “police custody is justified” and remanded him to CBI’s custody until Monday.
Special Judge Ajay Kumar Kuhar said Chidambaram’s family members and his lawyers can meet him at a time feasible to both sides.
Appearing for the CBI, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta sought the custody of the senior Congress leader as he was brought to the Rouse Avenue court under heavy security from the CBI headquarters.
The prosecution said the investigation has revealed that a payment of $5mn was made by INX Media case co-accused Indrani Mukherjea.
But interestingly, Chidambaram denied being asked this question by the CBI.
The prosecution argued that when he was shown the document, Chidambaram remained silent and evasive, and stressed on the need to confront him with more documents.
Mehta recalled that the Delhi High Court order had denied Chidambaram anticipatory bail and called him the “kingpin.” Mehta also gave the case diary to the court for perusal to make a strong case for getting Chidambaram’s custody.
He even cited several Supreme Court judgments during the course of his argument.
Senior Congress leader and lawyer Kapil Sibal, appearing for Chidambaram, said the accused in the current case is Chidambaram’s son Karti who has been granted regular bail by the Delhi High Court.
He insisted that the investigation is complete as a draft charge sheet has been framed.
Sibal, on the question of Chidambaram’s “evasiveness”, told the court that the former minister insisted on sleeping on Wednesday night rather than being interrogated and was open to it since 8am yesterday.
He also complained to the court it was the CBI which started the questioning at 11am and asked Chidambaram only 12 questions.
Sibal also argued that the Foreign Investment Promotion Board consists of six central government secretaries, who recommended the file to the then finance minister.
He he also raised a question mark on the credibility of the documents produced by the CBI.
Opposing the CBI’s custody demand, Sibal argued that bail is the norm, not an exception.
Senior Congress leader and lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi argued Chidambaram was just an “approver” while the decision was taken by the six members of the FIPB.
Chidambaram has yet not been charged.
Congress spokesman Randeep Surjewala said the ex-minister’s arrest reeked of “a shameless witch-hunt” by the ruling party.
“Over the last two days India has witnessed the broad daylight murder of democracy,” Surjewala said.
“The government is using CBI as a personal revenge-seeking department for the party in power.”
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