A day after granting P Chidambaram and his son Karti protection from arrest in the Aircel-Maxis case with strong remarks for the investigative agencies seeking their arrest, a trial court adjourned the case indefinitely on Friday.
CBI court Judge OP Saini directed the CBI and Enforcement Directorate to "revive" the case after they received a response from the countries to which they had written, asking for information on the former Finance Minister.
On Thursday, Judge OP Saini had granted pre-arrest bail to the Chidambarams in the case filed by the CBI and Enforcement Directorate, saying that the charges against them were "not grave" and the amount involved was "paltry".
The judge also questioned what he called an "unexplained delay in investigation" and referred to "discrimination".
"Considering the distance of time between the commission of alleged crime and the filing of the instant application, unexplained delay in investigation, there being no possibility of the applicants/accused tampering with the evidence or threatening any witness or fleeing from justice and there being no possibility also of applicants/accused committing a similar crime again, I am satisfied that it is a fit case for grant of benefit of anticipatory bail," said Judge Saini.
The court directed the Chidambarams to join the probe in the cases lodged by the two agencies and said that if arrested, they would be released on a personal bond of Rs 1 lakh. The court said they could not leave the country without permission, warned them against committing a similar crime again and also said they would not contact, threaten or influence any witnesses in the cases or tamper with evidence.
Before Mr Chidambaram and his son were made accused in the Aircel-Maxis case, a special court on February 2, 2017, had discharged DMK leader and former Telecom Minister Dayanidhi Maran, his brother Kalanithi Maran and others by the CBI and Enforcement Directorate. Later, both the agencies had filed a supplementary charge sheet naming the Chidambarams in the scam.
Judge Saini said the "allegations against Chidambarams are not of grave magnitude as the money allegedly laundered is about Rs 1.13 crore, which is paltry in comparison to allegations against Dayanidhi Maran and others, where the bribe amount was Rs 749 crore, but he (Dayanidhi) was not arrested."
The judge berated the agencies, saying: "An investigating agency should not discriminate against the two similarly situated accused, as this was against the rule of law. It may be noted that unwarranted discrimination in the treatment given to different accused in the same case violates the basic norm of the Constitution that the state instrumentalities should always operate in a just, fair and reasonable manner."
Both Mr Chidambaram and his son are MPs, the court noted. "Chidambaram is a member of the Rajya Sabha while Karti a member of Lok Sabha... Considering these factors, there was no apparent possibility of the accused fleeing from justice. Prosecution has also not cited any appreciable reason for such apprehension," said the judge, adding that there was "no possibility" for the Chidambarams to commit a similar crime as "they don't hold any official position in the government at present".
Even if an investigation was on, there was no possibility of the accused tampering with the evidence, the judge said, and if there was any such possibility, it could be tackled by imposing conditions.
The court commented that instead of arguing the case, the agencies were seeking "date after date" after filing the complaint on the pretext of investigating further.
The investigation had been "highly delayed" by both the agencies as they had almost the entire material since the beginning, said the judge.
The reprieve in the Aircel-Maxis case came between two damning court orders for Mr Chidambaram, 74, in the INX Media case.
One, a Supreme Court order denying him protection from arrest by the Enforcement Directorate and the second, a Delhi court's decision to send the Congress leader to judicial custody, which meant the Tihar Jail.