Chidambaram arrested after high drama, claims innocence in graft case

CBI officials arrest Congress leader P Chidambaram from his Jor Bagh residence in New Delhi. (PTI Photo)

Senior Congress leader and former finance minister P Chidambaram was arrested late on Wednesday (August 21) by CBI in connection with alleged violation of FIPB norms in the INX media case.

The arrest came on a night of high drama when Chidambaram, who was reported missing for more than a day, surfaced at the Congress headquarters where he addressed a press conference.

CBI officials rushed to the Congress office, but before they reached there, Chidambaram finished his presser and left for home. The CBI sleuths then reached his home, where some officials scaled the wall of his residence when denied entry.

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After almost an hour of discussions inside his house, senior CBI officials took him away to the agency headquarters, where he was formally arrested, according to reports.

Earlier, Chidambaram failed to get urgent listing of his bail plea in the Supreme Court which decided to hear on Friday (August 23) his petition seeking stay of the Delhi High Court order that had dismissed his anticipatory bail plea.

‘Respect law even if applied with unequal hand by probe agencies’

At the press conference, he claimed innocence and asked probe agencies to “respect” the law till the Supreme Court hears his bail plea on Friday.

He put up a strong defence of himself and his family members, saying none of them has been directly accused of any offence by the probe agencies in the FIR or the charge sheet.

Rejecting reports of his evading the law, he told reporters that the charges against him and his son were “nothing further from truth”. He said he was working with his lawyers through the last night, preparing his papers for his bail application, which was filed before the Supreme Court earlier.

“Respect for law can mean only one thing, wait for Supreme Court justice on Friday,” he said, suggesting that the probe agencies should not arrest him until the apex court decides on his bail plea.

“Until Friday and beyond, let’s hope the lamp of liberty will shine bright and illuminate the whole country,” he said. “I will respect law even if applied with an unequal hand by probe agencies,” he said, reading out from a hand-written statement.

He did not take any question from journalists. Flanked by his party colleagues and senior lawyers — Kapil Sibal and Abhishek Singhvi — who are also representing him in the cases, Chidambaram said there is no charge sheet filed by either the CBI or the ED before a competent court.

He also said the FIR recorded by the CBI does not impute him of any wrongdoing. “Yet there is a widespread impression that grave offences have been committed by me, and that my son and I have committed the offences. Nothing can be further from the truth. These are lies spread by pathological liars,” he said, adding that he was granted interim protection by the high court.

P Chidambaram
Congress leader P Chidambaram addressing a press conference with party leaders Kapil Sibal, Abhishek Singhvi, Mallikarjun Kharge, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Ahmed Patel and KC Venugopal at Congress headquarters in New Delhi. (PTI Photo)

A large number of Congress workers had gathered at the party headquarters and raised slogans against the government and probe agencies.

Court drama

Registrar (Judicial) informed Chidambaram’s lawyers that Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi has listed the matter for hearing on Friday. Soon after getting the message from Registrar (Judicial), a team of lawyers led by senior advocate Kapil Sibal had short deliberation in the consultation room after which they left the apex court.

Chidambaram, who was home minister and finance minister in the UPA government from 2004-2014, had sought a stay on the Delhi High Court’s Tuesday judgement dismissing his anticipatory bail plea, paving the way for his arrest in cases related to the INX Media scam. The cases have been lodged by the CBI and the ED.

A commotion was seen in the top court from 10:30 am to 5 pm as three attempts were made by his lawyers seeking urgent hearing on Wednesday itself, but the CJI decided that the case will be heard on Friday.

The CBI issued a look out circular against Chidambaram to prevent him from leaving the country as the agency continued its efforts to locate him, officials said.

The probe agency is understood to have alerted all airports and other ports of entry to prevent Chidambaram from leaving, sources said.

As per the apex court rules, the composition of the bench which will hear his case will be known on Thursday evening. His petition was first mentioned by Sibal in the morning before a bench, comprising Justices N V Ramana, M Shantanagoudar and Ajay Rastogi, which sent it for being placed before the CJI for his consideration to accord it urgent hearing.

When the team of lawyers representing Chidambaram did not receive any information on urgent listing, Sibal once again mentioned it before the same bench after it assembled post lunch.

Sibal, flanked by other senior advocates Salman Khurshid, Vivek Tankha and Indira Jaising, told the bench that the investigating agencies have issued a look out notice against Chidambaram as if he is going to “run away”.

The top court said the defects in the petition had been removed “just now” and it “cannot be listed for hearing today itself”. “Without listing of the petition, we cannot hear the matter,” said the bench. “Sorry Mr Sibal. We cannot hear the matter,” the bench said when he repeatedly asked for hearing the matter on Wednesday itself.

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