NEW DELHI: "A ghost is sought to be created" by former finance minister P Chidambaram by "playing victim card" and prevent the ED from arresting him in the INX Media money laundering case, the probe agency told the Supreme Court Wednesday.
Asserting it to be a "serious case of money laundering", the Enforcement Directorate said it has collected "cogent materials" warranting custodial interrogation of Chidambaram.
It said it received "specific inputs and specific details" from foreign countries and banks about properties abroad, house number, companies and persons who own them.
The ED told a bench of Justices R Banumathi and A S Bopanna, which extended till Thursday the interim protection from arrest granted to Chidambaram in the ED case, that no "witch hunt" is going on against him and money laundering is a "well crafted" and "well thought of" offence.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for ED, said they cannot share "sensitive material" collected during the probe with Chidambaram at this stage.
"We will put it to accused during custodial interrogation. We do not arrest an accused to have a cup of tea with him," Mehta said.
"A ghost is sought to be created by playing the victim card," he added.
"This is not a witch hunt as alleged by them. We have material to show that it is a serious case of money laundering. We have collected cogent materials in the case," Mehta said during the arguments which will continue on Thursday.
Referring to the arguments advanced by Chidambaram's counsel on Tuesday that ED wanted to humiliate him by arresting him, Mehta 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".
He said they are dealing with an "intelligent person" since a "stupid man" cannot commit laundering of layers and layers of money and this offence is not committed in a heat of moment.
"It is a well crafted and well thought of offence, meaning thereby it become very difficult to unravel how money is laundered," he said while urging the court to look into the materials collected during the probe.
"We are requesting the court not to prevent us from exercising our right to arrest an accused as per statutory framework," he said, adding that ED has attached properties situated abroad and letters rogatory have been issued to several countries in the case.
He said money laundering is "going on" in the case and a very notable aspect of such an offence is that the evidence vanishes within minutes a charge sheet is filed in the court.
"As on date of registration of ECIR, which is an FIR, and as we are investigating and arguing this case today, money laundering is going on and it is a scheduled offence," he said.
Mehta further said: "Money laundering is a separate and stand alone offence and person using proceed of crime and using laundered money can equally be held guilty".
He 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.
Referring to provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), Mehta said it provides that material collected during the probe is sent to adjudicating authority in a sealed cover.
He said material which ED receives from foreign countries during investigation is "official records and it cannot be fabricated".
The Solicitor General said there has to be "reasons to believe", which would be recorded in writing, for arresting an accused for the offence of money laundering and it has to based on the material collected during the investigation.
"Information is received from the source, from other countries and from banks. We cannot share it with the accused unless charge sheet is filed," he said, adding, "Materials are in my (ED) possession. We cannot use them arbitrarily and they are sacrosant".
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, representing Chidambaram, said they never argued that they wanted access to the material collected by the ED.
"We have only said that you (ED) should put it (materials) to the accused and question him on it," he said, adding, "Without confronting the accused with this, they cannot put the material in the court in a sealed cover".
Mehta said senior advocate A M Singhvi, who also appeared for Chidamabaram, had argued that they should have access to the materials.
"This is the problem when two senior lawyers appear for a man. I (ED) want to show these materials to the accused in custody," he said, while adding that, "now, they have a change of heart".
He tried to persuade the bench that the court must look into the materials as it is not only "permissible but it is also required".
Mehta argued that money laundering is a "well designed" offence and "answer of accused will differ if they are in custody as compared to when they are under a protective umbrella of bail".
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 the ED.
CBI had lodged an FIR on May 15, 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.