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The Supreme Court today granted bail to former Union Minister P Chidambaram in the INX Media money laundering case filed by the Enforcement Directorate (ED).
The judgment delivered by the Bench of Justices R Banumathi, AS Bopanna, and Hrishikesh Roy comes after P Chidambaram spent over 100 days in custody in relation to the INX Media case.
The judgment written by Justice AS Bopanna takes into account the seriousness of economic offences and has held that economic offences would fall under the category of grave offences.
Having said this, the Court added that the seriousness of the offence would be gathered from the facts and circumstances of each case. In this backdrop, the Supreme Court stated that the Delhi High Court was right in adverting to the gravity of the offence. However, the observations made by the High Court as regards the merits of the case were disapproved of by the Supreme Court.
The Apex Court also said that it was not inclined to go through the contents of the sealed cover submitted by the ED. However, the Court said that it was imperative for it to peruse the contents given that the decision of the High Court also placed reliance on the same.
While allowing the petition filed by Chidambaram, the Court clarified that the same would not have any bearing on the other connected cases.
The Apex Court eventually saw it fit to grant Chidambaram bail in the ED case.
While setting aside the Delhi High Court order, the Bench also made the following stipulations:
ii) The appellant is ordered to be released on bail if he is not required in any other case, subject to executing bail bonds for a sum of Rs.2 lakhs with two sureties of the like sum produced to the satisfaction of the learned Special Judge;
iii) The passport ordered to be deposited by this Court in the CBI case shall remain in deposit and the appellant shall not leave the country without specific orders to be passed by the learned Special Judge.
iv) The appellant shall make himself available for interrogation in the course of further investigation as and when required by the respondent.
v) The appellant shall not tamper with the evidence or attempt to intimidate or influence the witnesses;
vi) The appellant shall not give any press interviews nor make any public comment in connection with this case qua him or other coaccused.
Chidambaram had moved the Supreme Court seeking bail in the ED case after the Delhi High Court rejected his bail plea on the grounds that the charges are serious and grave. The High Court’s findings as regards the triple test for granting bail were, however, found to be in favour of the senior Congress leader.
Emphasising on the High Court’s findings on the requirements of the triple test, Chidambaram’s legal team told the Supreme Court that based on this test, he had been granted bail by the Apex Court in the case filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). Senior Advocates Kapil Sibal and Abhishek Manu Singhvi had argued that the gravity of an offence cannot be a ground to deny bail to a person.
It was also pointed out to the Court that the ED had, in fact, rejected Chidambaram’s offer to surrender when his anticipatory bail was rejected by the courts. The ED had first expressed urgency to take him into custody for interrogation, but expressed no such urgency when an offer to surrender was made, Chidambaram’s legal team told the Court.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who represented the ED, argued on the gravity of the offence and submitted that economic offences needed to be taken seriously. Mehta also argued that economic offences are offences against the society as a whole. He added that theagency had been successful in discovering some links between Chidambaram and overseas bank accounts.
The ED also contended that the former Union Minister wielded great influence which had led to certain key witnesses refusing to be confronted in his presence. The agency said that it apprehended that Chidamabaram may influence witnesses if allowed bail.
Chidambaram’s long ordeal began in August this year, when the CBI apprehended and later arrested him on August 21. This, after the Delhi High Court rejected his plea for an anticipatory bail in both the CBI and the ED cases. The CBI took him into custody even before the Supreme Court could hear the petition challenging the Delhi High Court’s order rejecting anticipatory bail.
The Special CBI Court had subsequently remanded Chidamabaram to police custody which extended over a fortnight. He was later sent to judicial custody in Delhi’s Tihar Jail. Chidambaram’s anticipatory bail was rejected by the Supreme Court in the meanwhile, leading to his offer to surrender to the ED. This offer was rejected by the agency.
After being lodged at the Tihar Jail, Chidambaram moved the courts for regular bail and was ultimately successful in securing bail from the Apex Court in the CBI case. The ED had sought his custodial interrogation in the meantime, which led to Chidambaram’s prolonged stay in the prison. A bail plea in the ED case was rejected by the Delhi High Court, leading to the present appeal before the Supreme Court.
[ Read Judgment here ]