New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday extended the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) custody of former finance minister P Chidambaram in the INX Media case till September 2.
The order was passed by Special Judge Ajay Kumar Kuhar before whom Chidambaram was produced on expiry of four-day custodial interrogation granted on August 26. The apex court had two days ago extended till Thursday the interim protection from arrest granted to Chidambaram in the INX Media money laundering case lodged by the Enforcement Directorate (ED).
The court was hearing a plea filed by Chidambaram who has challenged the August 20 verdict of the Delhi High Court denying him anticipatory bail in the INX Media corruption and money laundering cases lodged by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the ED.
“Investigation being the prerogative of the investigating officer and given the fact that the record is voluminous and accused needs to be confronted. Thus, more time is required. In view of the submissions made, the accused is sent to police custody remand till September 2,” the judge said while pronouncing the order.
Chidambaram, 73, has been already subjected to custodial interrogation by the CBI for eight days since his arrest on August 21, after the Delhi High Court on August 20 dismissed his anticipatory bail plea.
The CBI sought an extension of Chidambaram’s custodial interrogation by five days in the case. His son Karti was also present in the court.
An application seeking an extension of five more days of police custody was moved on the ground that extensive interrogation was conducted and he was confronted with relevant records and statements of witnesses.
However, the agency said despite the best possible efforts, an investigation cannot be completed due to his evasive and non-cooperative attitude and further time is required.
Additional Solicitor General (ASG) KM Nataraj, representing the CBI, said Chidambaram has been partially interrogated and he is required to be confronted with further documents.
The judge asked the CBI as to why it required five more days for interrogating Chidambaram and wanted to see the case diary.
When the ASG said there are voluminous documents, the judge said, “You were aware of the volume of documents, why did you ask for only five days custody for the first time, second time also you asked for five days only. Why this approach.”
ASG Nataraj replied that it all depends upon how Chidambaram answers the questions.
The judge, after going through the case diary, said the grounds which the CBI has given for further custodial interrogation are vague.
He said the CBI should have asked for the custodial interrogation of Chidambaram for 15 days on the very first day of his production.
CBI said that Chidambaram was not giving straight answers, though he has been questioned for 8-10 hours every day.
“There is a case of further extension of his custody,” the ASG said. He further said Chidambaram had agreed before the Supreme Court that he has no problem if the CBI custody is extended till Monday.
Noting the submission, the court asked Chidambaram’s counsel Dayan Krishnan and CBI to discuss and decided how much custody is required.
“What’s the use of this court? ” an upset judge said.
Krishnan said till now 55 hours of questioning has taken place and not a single document was there on money trail. He said the investigation is also not fair and three files have been shown to Chidambaram 20 times and claimed that there is not a shred of documents on money trail.
“Three files have been shown to me over 20 times. Each and every question answered without a pause,” Chidambaram’s counsel said.
This submission was opposed by the CBI which said money trail issue is not for the agency to look into.
When the court asked Chidambaram’s counsel whether he was opposing the extension of police custody, he said there are a number of objections.
On a specific query by the court, the lawyer said Chidambaram can be sent to CBI custody till Monday, that is, September 2.
“Since the matter is pending in the Supreme Court, I am willing to be in custody till Monday,” Chidambaram’s lawyer said.
However, Chidambaram himself spoke and said he was opposing the CBI application for police custody. He also said there is no justification to put him in custody and ask the same questions.
The ASG raised an objection to Chidambaram himself addressing the court.
Chidambaram, who was Union home minister as also finance minister during the UPA rule from 2004 to 2014, was arrested by the CBI on August 21 from his Jor Bagh residence. He was earlier produced before the court on August 22 and was remanded to four-day CBI custody.
The CBI had registered an FIR on May 15, 2017, alleging irregularities in the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (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 Enforcement Directorate lodged a money laundering case in this regard in 2017.
(With News 18 inputs)