NEW DELHI: Senior Congress leader and former finance minister P Chidambaram, arrested by the CBI in the INX Media corruption case, sought bail from the Supreme Court Tuesday saying the probe agency wants to keep him in jail to "humiliate him".
Senior advocates Kapil Sibal and Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for Chidambaram, told a 3-judge bench headed by Justice R Banumathi that there were no allegations against their party colleague or his family members of having ever tried to approach or influence any witness in the case.
Sibal told the bench, also comprising justices A S Bopanna and Hrishikesh Roy, that Chidambaram is in custody for last 55 days and the Delhi High Court had rejected his bail plea in a "strange way".
Chidambaram, 74, was arrested by the CBI on August 21 and is lodged in Tihar jail under judicial custody in the corruption case.
Chidambaram was the Union minister for finance as also home during the UPA-I and UPA-II governments from 2004 to 2014.
The CBI had registered an FIR on May 15, 2017 alleging irregularities in a Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance granted to the INX Media group for receiving overseas funds of Rs 305 crore in 2007, during Chidambaram's tenure as the finance minister.
Thereafter, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) lodged a money-laundering case in this regard in 2017.
Chidambaram moved the top court challenging the high court's September 30 verdict denying him bail in the INX Media case lodged by the CBI.
Sibal told the bench Tuesday that earlier the ED had argued before the apex court that they want custodial interrogation of Chidambaram, but later they opposed his application filed in the trial court to surrender in the money laundering case.
"Bail should be granted to him (Chidambaram). They (CBI) want to keep me in jail to humiliate me," Sibal said.
He said the high court had denied bail to Chidambaram while considering the three factors -- flight risk, tampering of evidence and influencing witnesses.
On flight risk and tampering of evidence, the high court held in Chidambaram's favour but on the aspect of influencing witnesses the order went against him, Sibal said.
He said the high court had noted in its order that as per "sealed cover" material placed before it by the CBI, two material witnesses who are co-accused in the case were being "approached".
"Who approached them? It is not set out. We do not know about this because we were in dark as documents were placed in a sealed cover. The high court says that he (Chidambaram) was a strong home minister and finance minister and is also a sitting MP. This cannot be held against me," he said, adding, "This is a strange way of rejecting my bail".
Singhvi also questioned the findings of the high court which had said the possibility that Chidambaram will not influence witnesses cannot be ruled out.
"This cannot be a manner of denying him bail," Singhvi said, adding, "On this ground, every bail petition will be rejected".
"There is no allegation that I (Chidambaram) or my family members approached any witnesses or accused. CBI had moved six remand applications before the trial court but this allegation was never mentioned in any of these applications," he said, adding the CBI came out with a "grand theory" of influencing witnesses only in September end this year.
He also said that the high court ought not have referred to the merits of the case while deciding a bail petition.
While Sibal told the court that this was not a case of "bank fraud" as no money was taken from the bank and investment had come to the country from outside, Singhvi said there are no allegations of financial loss or siphoning of funds.
Singhvi said that CBI had placed the material in sealed cover before high court and claimed that two co-accused, most likely to be then promoters of INX Media Group Peter and Indrani Mukrerjea, were "approached" then why the agency did not take any action under the witness protection scheme.
He said courts should not give credence to the statements or affidavits of these co-accused.
Both the senior advocates said CBI has filed cross-appeal against the high court's finding that Chidambaram was not a flight risk and could not tamper with evidence.
They said Chidambaram is not a flight risk as he was arrested from his home after addressing a press conference on August 21 and he had joined the probe conducted by CBI and ED whenever he was called by them.
At the fag end of the hearing, Singhvi said all the other accused in the case have already been granted bail by the courts.
He also said that none of the other members of the then FIPB have been arrested by the CBI but Chidambaram is in custody since August 21.
The court would hear on Wednesday the arguments of Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who is representing the CBI.
A trial court on Tuesday allowed the ED to interrogate Chidambaram in the INX Media money laundering case and said that if required, the agency can arrest him.
Chidambaram has challenged the high court's September 30 order, saying his continued incarceration was in the "form of punishment" and the liberty of an individual could not be denied on the basis of "anonymous and unverified allegations".