NEW DELHI: Observing that investigation is the prerogative of the probe agency, a special CBI court here dismissed on Friday a plea by former Union finance minister P Chidambaram, who is currently lodged in Tihar jail in the INX Media corruption case, to surrender in the money-laundering case filed by the Enforcement Directorate (ED).
“The applicant has neither been arrested nor did this court take any cognisance of any offence on any complaint or chargesheet … This is not even a notional surrender because the court has not taken the applicant into custody in this case though he happens to be in custody in another case,” special judge Ajay Kumar Kuhar observed.
Chidambaram is currently in judicial custody in the CBI case. The ED, through solicitor-general Tushar Mehta and special prosecutor Nitesh Rana, opposed his surrender plea, arguing that the agency wanted to make use of the 15 days of remand it was permitted to seek under the law.
The agency also argued that it did not want to pursue Chidambaram’s custody as of now though there were sufficient grounds for custodial interrogation. S-G Mehta argued, “The ED will be able to utilise 15 days of remand to its optimum if custodial interrogation of the accused takes place after these six individuals are interrogated.”
The court said when the investigating officer was not willing to arrest the applicant at this stage, Chidambaram’s application for surrender could not be entertained. The former finance minister had only moved a plea to surrender and wasn’t taken into custody in this case, it added. “The position of law is settled that investigation is the prerogative of the investigating agency. Thus, in the matter which is in the domain of the investigating agency exclusively, interference from the court is to be avoided,” the court held.
Chidambaram had filed his surrender plea on September 5.
S-G Mehta also pointed out that if he was pemitted to surrender, “every accused would come before the court and surrender, thereby choosing the remand period of 15 days, which was contrary to law”.
The S-G also submitted that an accused “could not choose” the date of his arrest and “curtail the discretion” of the investigating agency to choose its own mode and method of investigation. “We summoned six persons. Three of them have been interrogated… It is necessary to unearth the further trail of money laundering, which goes beyond the boundaries of this country,” he submitted.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal contested the ED’s claims and said the agency had come to arrest Chidambaram on August 20 and 21 but now had changed its mind. “Please call for the file,” Sibal urged the court.
Questioning why the agency showed an inclination to arrest his client, Sibal submitted, “Why have they (ED) changed their mind when they wanted to arrest me and interrogate me earlier? They have cogent evidence… This is a ruse… As a punitive measure that you (Chidambaram) continue to be in judicial custody. Prolong it as long as you can and then ask for my custody.”
The senior lawyer also asked why the ED couldn’t interrogate them (the six accused) earlier when the complaint dated back to 2017. “The six persons were there all along. When did they appear suddenly? This is with intent to punish me and make me suffer,” he said.
Sibal also said that the ED hadn’t looked at Chidambaram’s application carefully. “I’m only saying interrogate me. Take me on remand. I want the investigation to be over,” he added.
S-G Mehta responded to Sibal’s contentions by arguing that the “reasons to believe” that Chidambaram was required to be arrested existed prior to August 20, and did even today.