Supreme Court: In a major blow to Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram, the Court has rejected his plea against the Delhi High Court order rejecting his anticipatory bail plea in the INX Media case being probed by Enforcement Directorate (ED). The bench of R Banumathi and AR Bopanna, JJ said,
“In a case of money-laundering where it involves many stages of “placement”, “layering i.e. funds moved to other institutions to conceal origin” and “interrogation i.e. funds used to acquire various assets”, it requires systematic and analysed investigation which would be of great advantage.”
The Court was hearing Chidambaram’s plea against the Delhi High Court order rejecting his anticipatory bail plea in the INX Media case involving alleged irregularities in Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance given to the INX Media for receiving foreign investment to the tune of Rs.305 crores against approved inflow of Rs.4.62 crores.
Delhi High Court had denied the bail on 2 factors, namely, (i) gravity of the offence; and (ii) the appellant was “evasive” to deny the anticipatory bail. Taking strong exception against the said grounds, Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, argued that,
- the “gravity of the offence” cannot be the perception of the individual or the court and the test for “gravity of the offence” should be the punishment prescribed by the statute for the offence committed.
- Insofar as the finding of the High Court that “the appellant was evasive to the questions”, the investigating agency Enforcement Directorate cannot expect an accused to give answers in the manner they want and that the accused is entitled to protection under Article 20(3) of the Constitution of India.
The Court, however, noticed that ordinarily, arrest is a part of the process of the investigation intended to secure several purposes. There may be circumstances in which the accused may provide information leading to discovery of material facts and relevant information. Grant of anticipatory bail may hamper the investigation.
“Pre-arrest bail is to strike a balance between the individual’s right to personal freedom and the right of the investigating agency to interrogate the accused as to the material so far collected and to collect more information which may lead to recovery of relevant information.”
Stating that Section 438 Cr.P.C. is to be invoked only in exceptional cases where the case alleged is frivolous or groundless, the Court noticed that in the case in hand, there are allegations of laundering the proceeds of the crime and that the Enforcement Directorate claims to have certain specific inputs from various sources, including overseas banks. It, hence, held that grant of anticipatory bail, particularly in economic offences would definitely hamper the effective investigation.
“Having regard to the materials said to have been collected by the respondent-Enforcement Directorate and considering the stage of the investigation, we are of the view that it is not a fit case to grant anticipatory bail.”
The Court, however, clarified that
“As and when the application for regular bail is filed, the same shall be considered by the learned trial court on its own merits and in accordance with law without being influenced by any of the observations made in this judgment and the impugned order of the High Court.”
Meanwhile, the CBI special court has sent former union minister P. Chidambaram to judicial custody till 19 September in the money-laundering and corruption case related to the INX Media scam.
[P. Chidambaram v. Directorate of Enforcement, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 1143, decided on 05.09.2019]