As If I Am Some ‘Ranga-Billa’, P Chidambaram Tells Court On Denial Of Bail
Former Finance Minister P Chidambaram, who is in custody for 99 days in the INX Media corruption and money laundering case, on Wednesday questioned in the Supreme Court on the denial of bail by the Delhi High Court, asking was he a criminal like some ‘Ranga-Billa’.
Ranga and Billa were convicted of kidnapping and murder of two siblings--Geeta and Sanjay Chopra--in 1978 in Delhi that sparked nationwide outrage and were sentenced to death. The two hardened criminals were hanged in 1982.
Chidambaram, 74, also told the apex court which was hearing his bail plea that he has been kept “unfairly” in jail just because he was the father of Karti, a key accused the INX Media money laundering case, and there was not a “single evidence” linking him to it.
A Delhi court, meanwhile, extended the judicial custody of Chidambaram for two weeks in connection with the INX Media money laundering case lodged by the Enforcement Directorate.
Special judge Ajay Kumar Kuhar passed the order after the ED sought an extension of Chidambaram’s judicial custody, saying the investigation in the case was ongoing.
Chidambaram was first arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation on Aug. 21 in the corruption case linked to the INX Media and was granted bail by the top court on Oct. 22.
The ED re-arrested the veteran leader on Oct. 16 in the consequential money laundering case pertaining to routing of proceeds of the crime in the graft case.
Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra met Chidambaram at Tihar Jail and expressed solidarity with their senior party colleague.
"It's been 99 days today. It's rather unfair that one needs to be kept in custody for 99 days only as a remand. He is not even an undertrial but on remand. The system is unfair. I hope we will get justice in the Supreme Court and he will back home soon," said Karti Chidambaram, who was also present during the meeting that lasted for close to 50 minutes. The former union minister has been in the custody of the CBI and the ED and in judicial remand.
Assailing Delhi High Court's Nov. 15 order dismissing Chidambaram's bail plea, senior advocate Kapil Sibal told the apex court that he has been "unfairly kept in custody for a long period as the idea is to keep him in jail as long as possible".
Sibal referred to the high court's verdict and said though it has been held that Chidambaram was neither a "flight risk" nor involved in tampering of evidence and nor attempted to influence witnesses, yet the bail has been denied on the ground the offence was grave and that a wrong message would go to the nation if granted the relief.
"It has been said (in High Court verdict) that a wrong message would go to country if I am released on bail as if I am some kind of criminals like 'Ranga' and 'Billa', My Lord," Sibal told the bench headed by Justice R Bhanumati which also comprised justices AS Bopanna and Hrishikesh Roy.
Sibal and senior advocate AM Singhvi appeared for Chidambaram and argued that the ED had alleged that the accused was influencing witnesses when he was in custody of the probe agency.
"The three witnesses were known to the ED since 2018, then why they were not called for confronting them with Chidambaram earlier," Sibal said, adding, "today is 99th day of my incarceration and yesterday the Constitution Day was celebrated in the country".
If there is one person against whom there was no evidence in the case, it was Chidambaram, he said, adding there were no allegations of "benami payments, benami properties, undisclosed bank accounts, no sms and no email trails" linking him with the offence.
"I am the only person who is in jail in this case and rest others are out on bail. I am a kingpin because I am the father of Karti Chidambaram," Sibal said.
Singhvi referred to Code of Criminal Procedure and said the gravity of offence can be decided on basis of punishment prescribed for an offence and if the maximum jail term for an offence is up to seven years, then the offence is not grave.
"The gravity of offence is not an issue here, the idea is to keep him in jail as long as possible," Sibal said, adding the ED did not interrogate Chidambaram and just wanted him to keep him in jail.
Citing previous judgements, Singhvi said the idea behind granting bail is to ensure that the presence of accused is secured during the trial and not to punish him before convicting him.
"How can he be kept in jail for 100 days, more so, when it is held that his presence can be secured during trial," Singhvi said, adding that a person cannot be kept in jail just because the prosecuting agency said the offence was grave.
He said the case did not involve a terrorist or a case of serial child molester where the court does not grant bail keeping in mind the gravity of offence.
The ED opposed the bail plea of Chidambaram, alleging he used the "influential office" of finance minister for "personal gains" and laundered the proceeds of crime to conceal "tainted money.