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The Supreme Court today rejected the plea filed by former Union Minister P Chidambaram seeking anticipatory bail in the case filed by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) against him.
“Having regard to the nature of allegations and the stage of the investigation, in our view, the investigating agency has to be given sufficient freedom in the process of investigation… Considering the facts and circumstances of the case, in our view, grant of anticipatory bail to the appellant will hamper the investigation and this is not a fit case for exercise of discretion to grant anticipatory bail to the appellant.”, the Supreme Court held.
The Court stated that anticipatory bail could not be granted as a matter of right. It added that it is to be exercised sparingly in the cases of economic offences which constitute a class apart.
Remarking that grant of anticipatory bail at initial stages might frustrate the ongoing investigation, the Court held that this was not a for case for grant of anticipatory bail.
The Court added that P Chidambaram was now free to apply for regular bail to seek any further relief.
While rejecting the plea for anticipatory bail, the Supreme Court added that P Chidambaram was free to apply for regular bail to seek any further relief.
The Court clarified that since the interrogation of the accused is part of the investigation which is purely within the domain of the investigation officer, the court cannot interfere by ordering the production of transcripts unless it is satisfied that the police officer had improperly and illegally exercised his investigating powers.
“Interrogation of the accused and the answers elicited from the accused and the opinion whether the answers given by the accused are “satisfactory” or “evasive”, is purely within the domain of the investigating agency and the court cannot substitute its views by conducting mini trial at various stages of the investigation.” , it said.
The Court also iterated that it could peruse the case diary/materials collected during an investigation by the prosecution even before the
commencement of the trial in the interest of justice.
The order was reserved by the Bench of Justices R Banumathi and AS Bopanna on August 29. While reserving the order, the Court had extended Chidambaram’s interim protection from arrest in the ED case till today.
During the hearings, Solicitor General for India Tushar Mehta had sought to place before the Bench material that was relied upon to seek custody of Chidambaram. The Court has directed the ED to submit this material in a sealed cover on the day the order was reserved.
The Court was also dealing with the question of whether or not courts can look into the material in a sealed cover without it being used to confront the accused persons first.
Arguments in this case lasted four days. Senior Advocates Kapil Sibal and Abhishek Manu Singhvi appeared for Chidamabaram, while Mehta appeared for the ED.
Sibal and Singhvi argued on the alleged impropriety on the part of the agency to hand over a note in a sealed cover to the Judge of the Delhi High Court after pleadings were complete. They had also alleged that the contents of the note were replicated in the High Court’s order verbatim. This charge, however, was refuted by Mehta.
Mehta had argued that Chidambaram was non-cooperative and evasive during questioning and that custodial interrogation was imperative to elicit a response from him. This submission found strong opposition from the other side. In fact, in an affidavit filed by Chidambaram, he had expressed concern over the ED using coercive methods to elicit certain responses from him.
Both the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the ED had sought Chidambaram’s arrest in the INX Media case after his plea for anticipatory bail was rejected by the Delhi High Court on August 20. This order was challenged before the Supreme Court by way of two separate SLPs, for protection from arrest from each agency.
One of these three petitions was dismissed when on August 26, the Supreme Court rejected the SLP challenging the order of the Delhi High Court denying him protection from arrest by the CBI. However, the Bench granted him interim protection from arrest by the ED.
The INX Media case pertains to the alleged irregularities in the Foreign Investment Promotion Board clearance to INX Media at the time when P Chidambaram was the Finance Minister. It is the case of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) that P Chidambaram and his son Karti Chidambaram received illegal gratification from INX Media owners, Peter and Indrani Mukherjea for the clearance.
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