To Chidambaram’s ‘Ranga-Billa’ defence, Centre’s comeback in Supreme Court

Former finance minister P Chidambaram wields substantial control over crucial witnesses who are afraid to testify against him, the Enforcement Directorate told the Supreme Court on Thursday in its pitch against releasing the 74-year-old politician from Tihar jail on bail.

Tushar Mehta, the Centre’s second most-senior law officer who is appearing for the investigating agency, told the top court that one witness refused to come face-to-face with Chidambaram “because he is too powerful”. Two other witnesses did not even turn up.

“It shows the fear which he evokes in the witnesses,” said Tushar Mehta.

Chidambaram, who has been in custody for 100 days in the INX Media case, was initially arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation on August 21. The INX Media case relates to alleged irregularities in Foreign Investment Promotion Board clearance granted to the group for receiving overseas funds of Rs 307 crore in 2007 during his tenure as the finance minister. Before he was granted bail in this case, the Enforcement Directorate placed him under arrest in a related money laundering case.

Chidambaram’s petition for bail was rejected by the high court. His appeal to the Supreme Court is being heard by a three-judge bench comprising R Banumathi, AS Bopanna and Hrishikesh Roy.

Kapil Sibal, who along with Abhishek Singhvi is appearing for Chidambaram, had yesterday pointed to the portion of the high court verdict that observed that Chidambaram should stay in jail else it would send a wrong message. Sibal said that observation made it sound as if he was like Ranga-Billa, the two men who had brutally killed two teenagers in Delhi that led to one of India’s biggest hunts for the two criminals in 1978. They were executed in 1982.

Tushar Mehta countered this argument as well before the three judges reserved their order. Mehta said economic crimes were serious offences. “The argument that that he should be granted bail because has not committed an offence like Ranga Billa does not hold good,” he said.

The gravity of an offence has to been seen from the impact of the offence on the society. “We have to consider whether the society will lose faith in the establishment or not,” added Mehta.

On Chidambaram’s arguments that he wasn’t involved in any alleged wrongdoing in this case, Mehta said that shell companies had been used to park bribes collected on behalf of the former minister.

“Subsequently, shareholding pattern of the companies was changed, foreign bank accounts were closed and fake evidence was created by petitioner…. We have evidence which shows that Advantage Strategic is nothing but an alter ego of petitioner and his son Karti, Tushar Mehta submitted.

Before the court wound up the oral hearing, Kapil Sibal asked the court to look at the evidence that the Enforcement Directorate had produced to back up its many allegations.

“They have not given detail of one phone call, one meeting. If I created shell companies, whom did I call, whom did I meet, where did I meet. Nothing has been stated,” Sibal said.

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