NEW DELHI: Granting an interim protection to former union minister P Chidambaram from arrest, the Delhi High Court today directed the Enforcement Directorate (ED) not to take any coercive step till August 1 against him in the INX Media money laundering case.
Justice A K Pathak, however, directed Chidambaram to cooperate with the ED's investigation as and when required and not to leave the country without the court's prior permission.
The court also sought ED's response on the senior Congress leader's anticipatory bail plea which was opposed by the investigating agency on the point of maintainability.
The senior Congress leader's role had come under the scanner of various investigating agencies in the Rs 3,500-crore Aircel-Maxis deal and the INX Media case involving Rs 305 crore.
It was during his tenure as finance minister in the UPA-1 government that clearances from the FIPB were given to the two ventures.
In the INX Media case, the CBI had registered an FIR on May 15 last year, alleging irregularities in the FIPB clearance to the media group for receiving overseas funds to the tune of Rs 305 crore in 2007 during Chidambaram's tenure as finance minister.
Thereafter, the ED had last year lodged the money laundering case in this regard.
A trial court here had yesterday granted protection from arrest till August 7 to Chidambaram in the Aircel-Maxis case in which he and his son Karti Chidambaram were named in the chargesheet filed by the CBI recently.
Appearing for the ED, Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta today contended Chidambaram was indulging in "forum shopping" by approaching different courts that should not be allowed.
"Can a litigant choose different forums? Under the CrPC, for seeking anticipatory bail, a person may approach high court or sessions court but this does not mean that a litigant will go for forum shopping," he said.
Mehta, who appeared along with advocate Amit Mahajan, said Chidambaram had approached the trial court seeking anticipatory bail in the Aircel-Maxis case that involved allegation of a similar modus operandi, while he has moved the high court for relief in the INX Media case.
Senior advocate Dayan Krishan and advocates P K Dubey and Arshdeep Singh, who were appearing for Chidambaram, said the Congress leader was apprehending arrest as the CBI has said it required his custodial interrogation in the main case.
The counsel said this matter was from the same transaction on which the CBI had also registered the case.
The only difference was that this petition related to the ED's case while the other one was of CBI, in which Chidambaram had already got protection from arrest.
The court said it would hear Chidambaram's anticipatory pleas on August 1 in the INX Media cases lodged by the ED and the CBI.
During the hearing, the ASG argued that in both the cases the allegation was that Chidambaram's son Karti was instrumental in getting FIPB approval with the consent of his father.
So, the modus operandi was same in both the cases, he said.
On the argument of forum shopping, the judge said when there was no bar under the law, how could the court object to it.
The ASG, however, said a litigant cannot do forum shopping and this needs to be decided.
Responding to this, Chidambaram's counsel said they could not have approached the high court in the Aircel-Maxis case as it arose during the investigation of the 2G spectrum allocation case.
Krishnan said there was an order of the Supreme Court that no other court except the top court or the special 2G court would entertain any interim plea relating to 2G case.
The ASG insisted that certain conditions be imposed on Chidambaram while granting him the interim relief as court would never have a different approach for an ordinary litigant and a litigant who is a former finance minister.
Chidambaram's petition said though no summons had ever been served on him by the ED in this case, he had an apprehension of arrest in view of the summons issued to him by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which was investigating the scheduled offence.