NEW DELHI: The ED Thursday told the Supreme Court that P Chidambaram continues to wield "substantial influence" on crucial witnesses in the INX Media money laundering case even from the custody, while the Congress leader said the agency cannot "destroy" his career and reputation by making baseless allegations.
Opposing his bail plea, the Enforcement Directorate said that economic offences like money laundering are grave in nature as they not only affect the nation's economy but also shake people's faith in the system, especially when it is committed by people in power.
Countering the claims of Chidambaram that he was being treated as criminals like 'Ranga' and 'Billa', Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the ED, told a bench headed by Justice R Banumathi that, "Are we going to say that only such offences as committed by Ranga and Billa are grave?".
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, representing the 74-year-old former finance minister, had on Wednesday referred to convicts 'Ranga' and 'Billa' while citing the Delhi High Court's verdict which had said that if he is granted bail then a wrong message would go the nation.
Convicts Ranga and Billa were sent to the gallows in 1982 for the sensational kidnapping and killing of two siblings in Delhi in 1978.
During the arguments on Thursday, Mehta said if an offence affects the national economy, its gravity is a good ground to deny bail to the accused.
"We have contemporaneous documents to show that even while in custody, be it police custody or judicial custody, he (Chidambaram) wields substantial influence and control over very, very crucial witnesses," Mehta told the bench, which also comprised Justices A S Bopanna and Hrishikesh Roy.
Mehta told the bench, which reserved its judgement on Chidambaram's appeal challenging the high court's November 15 verdict denying him bail, that ED would arrest his son Karti Chidambaram in the INX Media money laundering case as soon as the interim protection given to him by the high court would be vacated.
Sibal countered Mehta's submissions and said there was neither any evidence linking Chidambaram directly or indirectly with the alleged offence nor any material to show that he had influenced witnesses or tampered with any evidence.
"If there is one piece of evidence, one document, one property, one bank account in which I (Chidambaram) am directly or indirectly associated, then do not grant me bail," Sibal said, adding, "They (ED) cannot destroy his career by saying all these things.
They cannot destroy reputation of a man by making such baseless allegations".
Chidambaram was first arrested by the CBI on August 21 in the INX Media corruption case and was granted bail by the top court on October 22.
The ED had arrested him on October 16 in the money laundering case.
Senior advocate A M Singhvi, who also appeared for Chidambaram, said the ED has not placed any material on record to show that high court's findings that the Congress leader would not influence any witnesses or tamper with evidence was wrong.
Mehta said one crucial witness in the case had written a letter to the ED that he would not come face to face with Chidambaram during investigation as he is "too powerful" while two other witnesses did not turn up for being confronted with the Congress leader.
"In such a matter of economic offence, witnesses are not able to turn up to face him.
This shows the influence which he wields, fear which he evokes in the mind of witnesses," he said while seeking rejection of the bail plea.
"Gravity of offence has to be seen with the perspective of what impact it has on the society. There cannot be a straight jacket formula that if I am not Ranga and Billa then I have an indefeasible right to get bail," he said.
Mehta said that during the investigation so far, ED has found that 16 companies were created or used for concealing the proceeds of crime, 12 bank accounts were used for it and 12 properties were purchased in several foreign countries.
He said 'benami properties' were purchased outside India and the ED has got specific details as to how they were linked to Chidambaram and his family.
Terming it as a "well thought of" and "well crafted" economic offence, Mehta said it is not a "INX Media centric investigation".
"Karti Chidambaram is yet to be arrested in ED's case. He had filed a writ petition in the high court challenging the validity of certain provisions of Prevention of Money Laundering Act.
The high court has granted him protection from arrest," he said, adding, "The moment the interim order is vacated, even Karti has to be arrested".
Sibal argued that ED has not placed even a document to show how Chidambaram has influenced any witnesses in the case.
"Nothing is recovered from me (Chidambaram) or my premises. If something is recovered from somebody else, you prosecute that person and send him to jail. But how I am linked with this? What is the act that he abused his office?," he said.
Sibal said now ED is saying that Chidambaram, being the father of Karti, was the beneficiary of the alleged offence.
The apex court allowed the ED to submit in a sealed cover the relevant documents related to the case.
The CBI registered its case on May 15, 2017, alleging irregularities in a FIPB clearance granted to the INX Media group for receiving overseas funds of Rs 305 crore in 2007, during Chidambaram's tenure as finance minister.
Thereafter, the ED lodged a money-laundering case.