A special court on Thursday gave the CBI custody of Karti Chidambaram, son of Congress leader P. Chidambaram, for questioning till March 6 in the INX Media alleged bribery case, saying the matter is at an initial and very crucial stage that requires further investigation.
CBI Judge Sunil Rana gave the order after three hours of heated arguments between Karti’s lawyer and the CBI counsel, who pleaded for 14 days custody, saying he needed to be questioned thoroughly in “a serious finance corruption case” which is not a political witch hunt or vendetta.
“In view of the submissions made and the fact that the matter is at the initial stage of investigation, which is a very crucial stage and further as per the case diary and day-to-day report of the investigation, the claim of the CBI is based on the ground that there is a prima facie material showing the involvement of the accused and it requires further investigation,” the judge said in his nine-page order.
“In view of the facts and circumstances of the case, I am of the view that the police custody of the accused is necessary to confront the accused with documents, co-accused and to unearth the larger conspiracy and role of other accused persons involved in this case.”
Hence, the Judge said, it would be appropriate to grant further custody to the CBI of Karti for five days.
The investigating officer was asked to get the accused medically examined every 24 hours during the custody and Karti would be at liberty to seek the assistance of his counsel during the remand period.
Earlier, the prosecution contended that INX Media had received foreign investment to the tune of 26 per cent, including FDI, and in pursuance of criminal conspiracy it again approached the FIPB unit of the Finance Ministry and sought permission for the downstream investment.
“It is further submitted that such deceitful and fallacious proposal was favourably considered by the officials of the Ministry of Finance and was approved by the then Finance Minister (P. Chidambaram),” the Judge said, recalling the prosecution arguments.
The Judge disallowed Karti’s plea for home-cooked food but directed that he could be allowed medicines.
The INX Media had also received foreign investment of Rs 300 crore from August 22, 2007 to May 12, 2008 — which was in excess equivalent to Rs 300.7 crore. It was received from three Mauritius-based foreign investors.
Appearing for the agency before the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court, Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Tushar Mehta said Karti, who was arrested on Wednesday and sent to one day CBI remand, spent the whole night in the cardiac care unit of Safdarjung Hospital and came to the CBI only in the morning.
“He was only questioned for a few hours. It is amazing that despite no history of cardiac problem, doctors advised him to be in the CCU,” Mehta said.
He said one-day custody was not enough to question him and the CBI needed 14 days to interrogate Karti.
Mehta said investigation was at a crucial stage and custody remand of Karti was required to confront him with documents, co-accused and the trail of proceeds of crime as he was the ultimate beneficiary and the prime conspirator in monetary transaction involving huge sum of money.
The prosecutor accused Karti and his father, who was then Finance Minister in 2008, connived with each other to get Foreign Investment Promotional Board (FIPB) clearance for the INX Media, headed by murder accused Peter and Indrani Mukherjea, which was earlier accused of serious violations in receiving overseas funds.
The prosecution said Karti needed to be confronted with other accused, including his Chartered Accountant Bhaskar Raman, who is already in custody, and suspects in the case. There was need to travel to several cities for which 14 days custody would be required, he said.
He said Advantage Strategic Consultants, which is linked to alleged illegal payments, was virtually owned and controlled by Chess Management in which Karti is said to have stakes.
In her statement to a magistrate under Section 164 of the CrPC, Indrani Mukherjea said she along with her husband had travelled to a hotel in Delhi where they had met Karti.
Mehta said the hotel stay and travel details of the Mukherjeas were available with the CBI.
He said the Enforcement Directorate had recovered a hard disk in which it found four invoices relating to the alleged payments. He said there was evidence of money shared at various foreign locations on 33 occasions.
Opposing the CBI plea, Karti’s lawyer Abhishek Singhvi said the agency had questioned him for 22 hours on August 23 and 28 and no summons were issued to him after that.
“Logical inference is that you (the CBI) have nothing to ask. That’s why you did not issue any summon for the last six months,” Singhvi said in the court.
He challenged the CBI plea on three grounds saying there was no flight risk, Karti was cooperating in the investigation and there was no threat of tampering with evidence.
“The whole issue of arrest is motivated and illegal and not justified. Non-cooperation does not mean that he replies to the agency in the way they want him to.”
“All the four invoices (payments) referred to, Karti was neither a shareholder nor a director nor connected with any of them. In two of them, there was no remittance, no receipt of money was found. With the other two invoices also, he had nothing to do,” Singhvi contended.
“How this bribe money travelled to these companies is a billion dollar question that the CBI should explain.”
He also argued that how a son could get paid for FIPB clearance through his father who had himself ordered a serious fraud investigation into the matter.
He alleged that Indrani Mukherjea made the confession under the compulsion of the CBI as she is in its custody in the case of the brutal murder of her own daughter.
To this, Mehta objected and said Indrani was not in the CBI custody but in judicial custody and she has given her statement that needed to be taken as an evidence.