- P Chidambaram produced in court, CBI seeks 5-day custody
- Mr Chidambaram not cooperating with the investigation, CBI tells court
- He was arrested last night, kept in a "lock-up suite" at CBI HQ
Former union minister P Chidambaram was sent to the custody of the Central Bureau of Investigation for questioning till Monday -- a day less than the five days the agency had asked for. The special court where he was produced around three hours ago, said "Considering all the facts, custody justified", negating the arguments of Mr Chidambaram's lawyers and a special submission by the former minister.
The agency had contended that he was not cooperating with the investigation.
Calling attention to the "enormity and gravity" of the offence, the government's topmost lawyer Tushar Mehta pointed out that the Delhi High Court rejected the former minister's pre-arrest bail. Serious offence of money laundering of monumental magnitude won't be unearthed unless custodial interrogation is given, the CBI argued.
Appearing for Mr Chidambaram, senior Congress leader and veteran lawyer Kapil Sibal argued that the former minister was summoned for questioning only on one occasion and he complied. "How can he be accused of non-cooperation," Mr Sibal said. "This case is completely based on a case diary and a statement of another accused," Congress's Abhishek Manu Singhvi added.
In a special submission, Mr Chidambaram told the court that he did not leave any question unanswered when he was summoned by the agency on June 6, 2018. As evidence, he asked the judge to see the transcript of question-answer session, which is a part of the case diary.
Pointing out that no new developments that have taken place, he said he was not a flight risk, nor was he tampering with the evidence and so there was no reason for custodial interrogation.
Mr Chidambaram's wife Nalini and son Karti are present in court, which said the 73-year-old will undergo medical examination every 48 hours. He would also be allowed to meet his family members and counsels daily for half-an-hour.
Following Mr Chidambaram's dramatic arrest late last evening from his south Delhi house by officials who even climbed a boundary wall to get to him, the former minister was not questioned last night.
He was lodged in "Lock-up suite 3" in the guest-house floor of the CBI building, which was inaugurated in 2011 in his presence; as Home Minister of the Congress-led government at the time, he was special guest and, along with then prime minister Manmohan Singh, was taken on a tour of the building and its lock-up facilities.
Mr Chidambaram is accused of facilitating foreign investment into a television company, INX Media, in 2007, when he was Finance Minister, at the instance of his son Karti Chidambaram, who allegedly received kickbacks. Sources say he will be confronted with files of the Foreign Investment Promotion Board, which Mr Chidambaram headed as minister.
Mr Chidambaram and his son were named by INX co-founders Peter and Indrani Mukerjea, who are currently in jail in connection with the murder of Indrani Mukerjea's daughter Sheena Bora. Mr Chidambaram has denied the allegations, saying the case is a political witch-hunt by the BJP-led government.
The CBI may confront the former minister with the statement of Indrani Mukherjea, who turned approver in the case and allegedly gave details of her meeting with the Chidambarams.
Karti Chidambaram arrived in Delhi this morning and told reporters at the airport: "They don't have a case. My father's arrest is an attempt to silence the most vocal critic of the government."
Not seen as he was hunted by CBI and Enforcement directorate officers since Tuesday evening, Mr Chidambaram was arrested 90 minutes after he made a surprise appearance at a Congress press conference. All day, his lawyers and Congress colleagues Kapil Sibal and Abhishek Manu Singhvi had tried without luck to get the Supreme Court to urgently hear his petition for interim protection from arrest. The court decided to take up the petition on Friday.
"I was aghast that I was accused of hiding from the law...On the contrary, I was engaged in the pursuit of justice," said Mr Chidambaram, 73.
"Between now and Friday I shall walk with a clear conscience and my head held high. I shall respect the law, even if it is applied with an unequal hand by investigating agencies," the Congress leader read out from a statement.
Mr Chidambaram then drove to his home with Mr Sibal and Mr Singhvi, where CBI teams had made two visits already.
Caught off guard by Mr Chidambaram's appearance, the CBI first went to the Congress office and then to his home.
CBI officials, finding the gates to the building shut, climbed a wall to gain access and then drove their car in.
Chaos erupted between CBI, police and Enforcement Directorate teams, the media contingent and a group of slogan-shouting Congress workers.
Finally, Mr Chidambaram was arrested and driven to the CBI headquarters.
The senior Congress leader had been granted interim relief from arrest last year. On Tuesday, the Delhi High Court denied any further protection, referring to the "magnitude and enormity" of the charges and calling him the "kingpin".
After the High Court ruling, Mr Chidambaram was not found at his home, prompting the investigation agencies to put out two lookout circulars -- meant to stop a person from leaving the country.
In his petition before the top court on Wednesday, the former minister argued that his antecedents are "impeccable" and there is no possibility of him "fleeing from justice". But his petition was not heard on technical grounds.
The Congress has rallied behind the senior leader, with Rahul Gandhi calling the investigative agencies' pursuit of Mr Chidambaram a "disgraceful misuse of power" and his sister Priyanka Gandhi saying the former minister was being "shamefully hunted down".
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