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No material to indicate Chidambaram threatened witness, says SC

No material to indicate Chidambaram threatened witness, says SC

New Delhi: The Supreme Court Wednesday said there was no material to indicate that Congress leader P Chidambaram or anyone on his behalf had "restrained or threatened" a witness who refused to be confronted with him during probe in the INX Media money laundering case filed by the ED.

The apex court, which granted bail to the 74-year-old former finance minister in the case, dealt with the Enforcement Directorate's (ED) submissions that he wields influence over witnesses and there was likelihood of tampering of evidence.

"With regard to the witness having written that he is not prepared to be confronted as he is from the same state, the appellant (Chidambaram) cannot be held responsible for the same when there is no material to indicate that the appellant or anyone on his behalf had restrained or threatened the concerned witness who refused to be confronted with the appellant in custody," a bench headed by Justice R Banumathi said.

The bench, which also comprised justices A S Bopanna and Hrishikesh Roy, set aside the November 15 verdict of the Delhi High Court denying him bail in the case.

The top court noted submissions of Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who had appeared for the ED and said that although there was not much grievance with regard to the high court's conclusion that Chidambaram is not a 'flight risk', the finding on likelihood of tampering and influencing witness has not been considered in its "correct perspective".

"The finding in that regard has not been assailed and in such event, the appellant in our opinion cannot be taken by surprise. Even otherwise as rightly observed by the single judge (of high court) the evidence and material stated to have been collected is already available with the investigating agency," the bench said in its 37-page verdict.

Mehta had also told the apex court that further materials were still to be collected in the case, letter rogatory has been issued and thus possibility of tampering cannot be ruled out.

The bench noted ED's submissions that having held a "very high position" and also due to his status, Chidambaram is likely to influence witnesses.

"In the present situation the appellant is not in political power nor is he holding any post in the Government of the day so as to be in a position to interfere. In that view such allegation cannot be accepted on its face value," the bench said.

It said that availability of Chidambaram for further investigation, interrogation and facing trial is not jeopardized and he is already held to be not a 'flight risk' and there is no possibility of tampering the evidence or influencing or intimidating the witnesses.

The bench said that he would not tamper with the evidence or attempt to intimidate or influence the witnesses in the case.

During arguments in the top court, the ED had claimed that Chidambaram continued to wield "substantial influence" on crucial witnesses in the case even while in custody.

The Congress leader had countered the submissions saying the agency cannot "destroy" his career and reputation by making baseless allegations.

Chidambaram has been in custody since August 21 when he was arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in INX Media corruption case.

On October 16, the ED arrested him in the separate money-laundering case.

Six days later, on October 22, the apex court had granted him bail in the case lodged by the CBI.

CBI had registered its case on May 15, 2017, alleging irregularities in a Foreign Investment Promotion Board clearance granted to INX Media group for receiving overseas funds of Rs 305 crore in 2007 during Chidambaram's tenure as finance minister.

Thereafter, ED had lodged a money laundering case.

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