Seems like the law might be finally catching up to the former finance minister and Congress leader P Chidambaram.
First, Delhi High Court rejected his anticipatory bail application yesterday, and then the petition filed in Supreme Court today could not be listed immediately due to errors, and CJI Ranjan Gogoi was busy with Ayodhya hearing.
Justice Ramana turned down Sibal's plea for protection from arrest and said he couldn't do anything in view of the CBI/ED charge that Chidambaram might flee the country. Sibal offered to give an undertaking, but Justice Ramana did not relent, saying the matter was with the CJI.
Meanwhile, ED issued fresh lookout notice against P Chidambaram to restrict his movement across land, air and seaports.
Here’s a brief look on how the saga of corruption and money laundering unfolded.
First red flags
The first red flags related to INX media case appeared in 2008 when the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) of Ministry of Finance flagged FDI worth over Rs 300 crore by a Mauritius-based company INX Media owned by Peter and Indrani Mukherjea.
After the Income Tax department forwarded the case to Enforcement Directorate (ED), latter booked the company for violation of Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA). At the time, no connection to Chidambarams was found.
It was only years later, when the ED was investigating a company owned by Karti, son of P Chidambaram, that the agency found a link.
Karti’s CA’s computer was seized and the documents found on it indicated payments received by the former from INX Media. The payments had coincided with INX Media getting FIPB approval from the finance ministry, then headed by none other than the father of Karti, P Chidambaram.
In May 2017, CBI registered a case of corruption and searched the premises of both senior and junior Chidambaram. Meanwhile, ED launched a case of money laundering against Karti.
Link between INX Media and Chidambaram
INX Media approached FIPB in March 2007 seeking permission to issue 14.98 lakh equity shares and 31.22 lakh convertible non-cumulative redeemable preference shares of Rs 10 a piece to three non-resident investors under the FDI route. The shares represented 46.21 per cent of the issued equity capital of INX Media.
In the same application, the company also expressed its intention to “make a down stream financial investment to the extent of 26 per cent of the issued and outstanding equity share capital of INX News Pvt Ltd, a subsidiary of INX Media”.
According to the CBI FIR, while the FIPB only allowed an FDI worth Rs 4.62 crore and rejected the proposal of downstream investment, INX Media brought in over Rs 305 crore of FDI and also made a downstream investment of 26 per cent in its subsidiary, INX News.
When IT department started its investigation in 2008, and FIPB questioned the Mukherjeas for alleged flouting of the rules, the latter decided to approach Chidambaram for help.
CBI later found that FIPB, instead of investigating the case, extended undue favours to the media firm by asking INX News to apply for fresh FIPB approval on the downstream investment that it had already received.
Accused-turned-approver Indrani Mukherjea informed ED that both she and Peter decided to meet the then finance minister P Chidambaram in 2008 to seek favour in the FDI case. Peter said the alleged violations could be regularised with the help of Karti Chidambaram as his father was the finance minister.
The duo met Karti Chidambaram in a Delhi hotel who asked them to transfer $1 million in his or his associates’ overseas bank account. Indrani said that when Peter told Karti that this was not possible, latter suggested ‘Chess Management’ and ‘Advantage Strategic’ as alternatives to make payments.
According to ED, Peter then used dubious debit notes to transfer the money on directions of Karti. The proceeds from the same went into buying a tennis club in Spain, two cottages in UK, and multiple properties in India and abroad.
Noose tightens around Chidambaram’s neck
In June 2017, a Foreigner Regional Registration Officer (FRRO) and Bureau of Immigration, under Union Home Ministry, issues look-out circular (LOC) against Karti, which was stayed by Madras High Court, but later the High Court order itself was stayed by the Supreme Court.
In August, the Supreme Court asked Karti to appear before CBI, and the next month, CBI told the court that it had furnished details in a sealed cover on the probe about “possible transactions” abroad and 25 alleged offshore properties of Karti. The agency also informed the court that Karti was prevented from travelling abroad as he would use the visits to close foreign bank accounts.
After stints at one-day police custody, three-day CBI custody and 12-day judicial custody, Karti was granted bail by Delhi High Court in the INX Media corruption case, and interim protection against arrest by ED by Supreme Court, in March 2018.
Subsequently, senior Chidambaram also applied for anticipatory bail in the INX Media corruption case, as well as money laundering case of ED. Both were granted by the Delhi High Court in July 2018.
In October of the same year, the ED attached assets worth Rs 54 crore of Karti Chidambaram in India, UK and Spain in connection with the INX Media money laundering case. Karti’s father called the action "bizarre” and blamed BJP’s political vendetta behind the case.
A major development in the case happened when the accused Indrani Mukherjea turned approver on 11 July 2019 and accepted the conditions put on her before a judge.
Yesterday, on 20 August, the Delhi High Court rejected the application for anticipatory bail filed by Chidambaram, and declined his request to stay the order for 3 days to enable him to appeal in SC. The same day, CBI issued notice to the former finance minister to appear before the agency within two hours of the receipt of the notice.
The former finance minister remains untraceable since. His last known location is Lodhi road, Delhi where he abandoned his driver around 5 pm yesterday. His phone remains switched off.
Today his legal team, led by Kapil Sibal argued in the Supreme Court to provide him protection against arrest till his special leave petition against the High Court order is heard. He also said that CBI could interrogate him “on given dates and times but custodial interrogation was not at all warranted.”