Along drama of suspense finally came to an end on August 21, 2019 when former Union Home and Finance Minister P Chidambaram was arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) after a high-voltage theatrics that saw CBI officers climbing the boundary wall of his posh Jor Bagh Bungalow to nab him. The Special CBI Court granting five days custody further cornered Chidambaram and the Congress Party.
Ever since the Delhi High Court rejected his anticipatory bail plea on August 20 afternoon calling him the “Kingpin” of the sordid drama of money-laundering, Chidambaram had turned incommunicado, escaping to an unknown location. Both the CBI and ED seemed clueless about his whereabouts, which continued for several hours.
The ‘cat-and-mouse’ game ended when Chidambaram appeared at Congress headquarters at 8 pm on August 21 and soon the CBI team followed him straight to his Jor Bagh residence. Once he went in, he refused to come out despite the CBI knocking at the main gate with Congress workers heckling the officers. No wonder the CBI scaled the boundary walls to take him into custody at 9.45 pm. He was then whisked away to Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital for a routine check-up before sending him to the Economic Offences Wing at CBI headquarters.
Later in the day, he was presented before the special CBI Court (Rouse Avenue) and was remanded in custody for further questioning. The Supreme Court was not keen, when a battery of his topnotch Congress lawyers rushed to the apex court to seek interim bail on the grounds that “neither he nor his family members have been accused of any offence by the probe agencies.” The lawyers were also pleading for a stay on the HC order till the Supreme Court has heard the case.
Chidambaram’s family is under ED and CBI lens for corruption apart from the father son duo. His Palaniappa Charities is also under scanner. Despite a mountain of evidence, Chidambaram and his son played the victim card. Salman Khurshid, his lawyer, was seen telling reporters on TV, “Is this the legal system we need in this country” alluding that Chidambaram is a victim of a ‘witch hunt’.
It was clear that his lawyers could not hide him even a minute more as all TV channels had begun calling Chidambaram “missing,” “untraceable,” and “hiding from law.” This clearly was an unwanted stigma for the fugitive spoiling his own case as it progressed.
"I am aghast that I was accused of hiding from the law," Chidambaram said claiming he was working with his lawyers all through August 20 night and August 21 morning preparing his bail
How it all Began
Chidambaram’s luck ran out in January 2008 when it was found out that suspicious money flowing from three Mauritius-based firms into INX Media. Soon inquiries by Income Tax and Enforcement Directorate revealed a murky money trail of sinister nexus between the media house and P. Chidambaram in what was
clearly seen as a case of money-laundering.
The CBI and ED probes petered out as the UPA was in power for two consecutive terms. Only when Modi government came to power in 2014, an FIR alleging irregularities in FIPB clearance to INX Media was filed on May 15, 2017 and it soon gathered storm. Now the case is on track and those who made a mockery of rules will be forced to pay for their sins.
The case relates to INX Media divesting shares in 2007 to fund news channels and Chidambaram then circumventing FIPB regulations giving this media group a special privilege as quid pro quo for hefty bribes to his son Karti Chidambaram. Today, the case is more complex as many more serious irregularities are coming to light and ED widening the probe bringing many new companies into its ambit.
The new line of investigation by the agencies is to uncover the bribes presently amounting to Rs 307 crore to his son Karti following illegal FIPB approvals granted to many companies like Diageo Scotland, Katara Holdings, Essar Steel, Elforge Ltd and even the Airbus case apart from the Aircel Maxis and INX Media. All the monies were routed through offshore shell companies operated by his son Kartik Chidambaram in all these shady deals.
INX Media, owned by media entrepreneurs Peter Mukerjea and his wife Indrani Mukerjea, who are now languishing in jail for killing their daughter Sheena Bora – were originally allowed by the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) under Chidambaram’s control to receive Rs 4.62 crore as foreign funds, which later jumped to whopping Rs 305 crore.
The agencies have evidence on Chidambaram as Finance Minister meeting Indrani and her husband Peter in North Block for finalising the shady deals. Later Chidambaram is said to have met the husband-wife duo at a 5 star hotel when a bribe of million dollars was demanded which amounted to $7 million and paid. Soon after, Karti’s wealth between 2006 and 2014 had seen a whopping jump.
After anticipatory bail was denied by Delhi High Court, Chidambaram sought a stay on the operation from the Supreme Court.
What the l’affaire Chidambaram saga reveals is a long list of betrayal that made a mockery of financial integrity of India as a nation governed by laws.
One really doesn’t know how much of the Rs. 307 crore illegally received by INX Media following criminal tampering of FIPB regulations had turned into bribe. In Aircel Maxis case, the amount is about Rs 3000 crore, while in INX Media it was Rs 300 crore of which the bribes were accounted for. There are many more companies that benefitted from FIPB regulations being compromised and only a thorough investigation can reveal the full truth.
Karti was charged along with Indrani Mukerjea and her husband Peter Mukherjea for criminal conspiracy. Karti is saying, “I never knew Indrani or Peter Mukherjea until I met them at the Arthur Road Jail in Mumbai.” These VIP law-breakers are tough nuts to crack. It will require all the ingenuity of CBI and ED to extract the truth.
Indrani, who became an approver in INX case, had told the CBI that $1 million (roughly Rs 7 crore) deal was struck between Karti and Peter to secure approval from the FIPB in favour of INX Media. Karti was arrested last year and released on bail and is still on bail. CBI has already told the Supreme Court that he had ‘destroyed’ all evidences. It is just a matter of time that he will be sitting next to his father in the CBI headquarters.
With Chidambaram in custody the can of worms in Aircel Maxis case is bound to be opened. So there are too many other cases yet to see the light of the day.
Chidambaram’s arrogance as the Home Minister did him in when he foisted a fake encounter case to arrest then Home Minister of Gujarat, Amit Shah on 25 July 2010. Now he is learning to his woe that during good times it never pays to be arrogant as Hand of Law is above the Congress Hand.