Some 29 hours after his sudden disappearance and more than an hour since his dramatic reappearance, former home and finance minister of India P Chidambaram was arrested from his house amid tense scenes on Wednesday night and taken to the nearby headquarters of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for questioning over a money laundering case.
Chidambaram spent the night at the CBI office which he had inaugurated in 2011. On Thursday morning, CBI officials questioned him for hours by confronting him documentary evidence linked to the 2007 INX Media case.
He is set to be produced before the Special CBI Court in the afternoon. His legal team has already arrived at the court along with Karti and his mother Nalini Chidambaram.
Night of surprises
While the dramatic turn of events on Wednesday night kept TV journalists on their toes, hectic developments in the Supreme Court kept Chidambaram’s lawyers busy as they sought an urgent hearing of his petition against a Delhi High Court order rejecting his anticipatory bail application in the INX Media case.
After a long wait, lawyers were told by the registrar that the Supreme Court will not take up Chidambaram’s ‘defective’ petition on Wednesday evening. The petition has to be refiled properly after which it will be listed for hearing on Friday (Aug 23).
The delay in hearing was a real godsend for CBI and Enforcement Directorate (ED) officials who wanted more time to find and arrest Chidambaram.
To their surprise, he appeared at the Congress party headquarters in Delhi around 8.15pm for a press conference to show he is innocent of all charges in the INX Media case and not running away from law as alleged by a section of politicians and media.
Chidambaram read out a brief statement saying no charge-sheet has been filed against him or his son Karti by CBI or ED in the INX Media case.
Instead of running away from law on Tuesday evening, he was seeking its protection by sitting with his lawyers and preparing his bail application.
Until Friday, when the Supreme Court hears his bail petition, he will walk with a clear conscience and hold his head high, Chidambaram said.
Without taking questions from journalists, he left for his home in south Delhi along with his lawyer friends.
Minutes later, a CBI team arrived at his home in Jor Bagh. The gate was locked from inside and three officials were forced to scale the five-foot compound wall to open the gate for their colleagues.
Local Congress workers chanting slogans against CBI soon gathered at the gate and staged a sit-in to block officials from taking away their leader. Some of them beat those who resisted their protest.
Initially, confusion prevailed among CBI officials in finding Chidambaram in the duplex house. After one hour, they arrested him and took him to the nearby CBI headquarters.
Speaking to media in Chennai on Wednesday night, Karti denied any wrongdoing. No charge-sheet has been filed against him or his father by CBI or ED, he claimed. By arresting him in the past and his father now, enforcement agencies are trying to please their masters, he said.
Congress party condemned the arrest of Chidambaram and called CBI and ED revenge-seeking departments.
Addressing a press conference on Thursday, the party spokesman said the vindictive, selective and malicious manner in which the agencies are targeting their leader exposes the vendetta politics of the central government.
The comments came hours after the party gave a platform for the leader accused in a massive corruption scandal.
INX Media case
The INX Media case dates back to 2007 when Chidambaram was India’s finance minister.
Documents with the enforcement agencies show Karti allegedly took service charges from INX Media for helping it to receive foreign funds amounting to millions of dollars to start TV channels.
It is alleged Karti managed to get clearance for the funds from the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) with the help of his father.
INX Media co-founders Peter Mukerjea and his wife Indrani Mukerjea, who were later charged with conspiring with Karti to get the foreign funds cleared, allegedly told agencies that Chidambaram requested them to remember his son’s business interest once the funds are approved.
In her crucial disclosure that led to Chidambaram’s arrest, Indrani stated that Karti allegedly asked her for a bribe of $1 million when they met him at Hyatt hotel in Delhi.
This way, Karti had allegedly helped at least six shell companies, including one based in British Virgin Islands, to get foreign funds, according to documents provided by the agencies to media.
In February this year, ED attached Karti’s properties totally worth $7 million in India, Spain and the UK in the case related to INX Media.
‘No one above law’
Subramanian Swamy, who has been pursuing the INX media case, said Congress party is shaken as it fears arrests of more tainted leaders.
Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta said the money laundering linked to INX Media is of monumental proportion.
While rejecting Chidambaram’s pre-arrest bail petition, the Delhi High Court on Tuesday described Chidambaram as the kingpin of the money laundering scam. It also claimed substantial evidence against Chidambaram in the INX Media case.
The Bharatiya Janata Party, which leads the ruling coalition, holds the view that no one is above law which should take its due course.
BJP says it is ridiculous to think that the party is directing agencies or influencing the opinion of judges. If Congress thinks so, it is because the grand old party used them to their advantage when in power. To apply the same standards to other parties is wrong.