NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court today directed Karti Chidambaram to approach the Delhi High Court for interim relief in the INX Media money laundering case and allowed him to withdraw his plea before it, a move vehemently opposed by ED on the ground that it would set a "bad precedent" for others.
The top court requested the acting Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court to allocate Karti's matter to an appropriate bench so that it can be taken up for hearing tomorrow.
A bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra passed the order on Karti's plea despite strong opposition from Enforcement Directorate that the plea should not be allowed to be withdrawn but heard and disposed of.
Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta vehemently opposed the contention of senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Karti, that he should be allowed to withdraw the writ petition and approach the high court for the interim relief.
Sibal also sought one week's interim protection from arrest by Enforcement Directorate in the case till the time the high court disposes of the matter.
"Allowing the petitioner to withdraw and approach the high court by Supreme Court will send a wrong signal to all those who are facing money laundering case. There will be 50 petitions next day. What message we will be sending to others," Mehta said.
He said it will set a bad precedent for others to first approach apex court by way of writ petitions seeking interim protection and then seek permission to move the High Court with an urgent hearing facility.
The bench, which also comprised Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud, asked Mehta as "What if Karti is arrested by ED as soon as he is released by CBI from its custody?"
"He himself says he is not a 'common criminal'. But I ask myself what do common criminals do when released in one case and fear arrest in the other case. They apply for anticipatory bail. It is his constitutional right," Mehta said, adding that the court may quash the proceedings if it so wished, but it should not allow him to withdraw the petition.
The bench said it will pass orders directing the high court to entertain the petition of Karti and pass the interim order once a proper application is being moved.
"Now is this what the Supreme Court is going to do? Would it be appropriate for the Supreme Court to direct the high court to entertain the petition and pass the orders. It's like the high court does not know what to do. Let it be open for the High Court, it will decide according to the law," Mehta argued.
Sibal objected to the statements of Mehta asking "will now law officers dictate the court as what order it should pass and what not."
"What is this going on. This is the Chief Justice's court. This is a constitutional court and no one should be allowed to be dictated," Sibal, along with other senior lawyer A M Singhvi, said.
Mehta retorted, "this statement of my learned friend (Sibal) was bad in taste and should not be made. Court should not entertain this type of petition. Law officers are responsible persons of the court and we know our responsibilities".
The Chief Justice intervened and said, "Both of you (Sibal and Mehta) are today at a different level. Lot of statements are being made which are not according to law. Nobody can dictate the court what to do and what not to do".
After the bench passed the order allowing Karti to withdraw his petition and approaching high court, Sibal apologised for the comment but said he was not happy with the way things were going.
At the outset, the Sibal said the ED case was of "political vendetta" and "witch hunting" and so far, Karti has not been given the ECIR copy to know the details of the case.
Mehta said the ECIR was an internal document and need not be necessarily given to the accused but if the court insists, then he can give it.
"If he is to seek anticipatory bail under section 438 CrPC, then he has to first approach the high court or the special court, but he can't seek remedy under Article 32 before Supreme Court or Article 226 from high court," Mehta said.
Sibal said interim protection be given for few days by the apex court so that they can approach the Delhi High Court.
Karti had approached the apex court seeking direction to declare that the Enforcement Directorate had no jurisdiction to conduct any investigation unrelated to the allegations in the FIR lodged by CBI on May 15, 2017.
Karti was arrested on February 28 in Chennai immediately after he returned from abroad.
The ED had registered a case against him and others in May last year.
It had registered an ECIR, against the accused named in a CBI complaint.
These included Karti Chidambaram, INX Media and its directors, Peter and Indrani Mukerjea.
An FIR, filed on May 15 last year, had alleged irregularities in the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance to INX Media for receiving Rs 305 crore in overseas funds in 2007 when P Chidambaram was Union finance minister.