Need Chidambaram’s custody to unearth conspiracy: ED to SC

New Delhi: Money laundering is an offence against “society and nation”, the ED told the Supreme Court today and said it needed custodial interrogation of former Finance Minister P Chidambaram to unearth the larger conspiracy in the INX Media money case under PMLA.

The Enforcement Directorate told a bench of Justices R Banumathi and A S Bopanna that it cannot show the material collected during the probe to Chidambaram at this stage as the evidence related to money trail of layers of money might be erased.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for ED, said there is no requirement of “exposing the materials, sources and evidence to the accused at the stage of pre-arrest bail” and investigation is the exclusive domain of the probe agency.

“Money laundering is an offence against the society and the nation and probe agency has a right and duty to unearth the entire conspiracy,” he told the bench, adding that the apex court has consistently held that economic offences are “gravest of grave” irrespective of the sentence prescribed for it.

“I have materials to show that laundering of money continued after 2009 and even today (in the INX Media case),” he said, adding that the ED wants to interrogate Chidambaram in custody and without the “protective umbrella” of anticipatory bail.

The arguments in the case would continue during the day.

The agency had on Wednesday told the court that the former minister was “playing victim card” and preventing the ED from arresting him, and added that no “witch hunt” was going on against him.

Referring to the arguments advanced by Chidambaram’s counsel on Tuesday that ED wanted to humiliate him by arresting him, Mehta had said, “A victim card is sought to be played. They are saying humiliation. It is not. It is prevention, prevention and prevention with capital P. I am serious about this”.

“Money laundering is a separate and stand alone offence and person using proceed of crime and using laundered money can equally be held guilty,” Mehta had said.

Several countries have raised serious concern over “global phenomenon” of money laundering as it effects the economy of a nation and India has an obligation to fulfil towards other countries, he had added.

Referring to provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), Mehta had said it provides that material collected during the probe is sent to adjudicating authority in a sealed cover.

To this, senior advocate Kapil Sibal, representing Chidambaram, responded saying they never argued that they wanted access to the material collected by the ED but only said that the agency should put it to the accused and question him on it.

The apex court is hearing a plea filed by Chidambaram who has challenged the August 20 verdict of the Delhi High Court denying him anticipatory bail in the INX Media corruption and money laundering cases lodged by the CBI and ED.

CBI had lodged an FIR on 15 May, 2017, alleging irregularities in Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) 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 lodged a money laundering case.