Former Union Minister P Chidambaram spent the night at the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) headquarters after a dramatic arrest late on Wednesday from his house in south Delhi by officials who even climbed a wall in their attempts to get to him.
Mr Chidambaram was put up in “Lock-up suite 3” of the CBI building, which was inaugurated in 2011 in his presence; as Home Minister of the Congress-led government at the time, he was special guest and, along with then prime minister Manmohan Singh, was taken on a tour of the building and its lock-up facilities.
Sources say his questioning will start today, and later in the day, the CBI will take him to court and seek maximum custody – 14 days – for his interrogation.
Mr Chidambaram is accused of facilitating foreign investment into a television company, INX Media, in 2007, when he was the Finance Minister, at the instance of his son Karti Chidambaram, who allegedly received kickbacks.
Mr Chidambaram and his son were named by INX co-founders Peter and Indrani Mukerjea, who are currently in jail in connection with the murder of Indrani Mukerjea’s daughter Sheena Bora. Mr Chidambaram has denied the allegations, saying the case is a political witch-hunt.
Not seen as he was hunted by CBI and Enforcement directorate officers since Tuesday evening, Mr Chidambaram was arrested 90 minutes after he made a surprise appearance at a Congress press conference. All day, his lawyers and Congress colleagues Kapil Sibal and Abhishek Manu Singhvi had tried without luck to get the Supreme Court to urgently hear his petition for interim protection from arrest. The court decided to take up the petition on Friday.
P Chidambaram was arrested 90 minutes after he made a surprise appearance at a Congress press conference.
“I was aghast that I was accused of hiding from the law…On the contrary, I was engaged in the pursuit of justice,” said Mr Chidambaram, 73. “If I am asked to choose between life and liberty, I shall unhesitatingly choose liberty,” he added.
“Between now and Friday I shall walk with a clear conscience and my head held high. I shall respect the law, even if it is applied with an unequal hand by investigating agencies,” the Congress leader read out from a statement.
Mr Chidambaram then drove to his home with Mr Sibal and Mr Singhvi, where CBI teams had made two visits already.
Caught off guard by Mr Chidambaram’s appearance, the CBI first went to the Congress office and then to his home.
CBI officials, finding the gates to the building shut, climbed a wall to gain access and then drove their car in.
Chaos erupted between CBI, police and Enforcement Directorate teams, the media contingent and a group of slogan-shouting Congress workers.
Finally, Mr Chidambaram, who had been closeted with his legal advisers, was arrested and driven to the CBI headquarters.
The senior Congress leader had been granted interim relief from arrest last year. On Tuesday, the Delhi High Court denied any further protection, referring to the “magnitude and enormity” of the charges and calling him the “kingpin”.
After the High Court ruling, Mr Chidambaram was not found at his home, prompting the investigation agencies to put out two lookout circulars — meant to stop a person from leaving the country.
In his petition before the top court on Wednesday, the former minister argued that his antecedents are “impeccable” and there is no possibility of him “fleeing from justice”. But his petition was not heard on technical grounds.
The Congress has rallied behind the senior leader, with Rahul Gandhi calling the investigative agencies’ pursuit of Mr Chidambaram a “disgraceful misuse of power” and his sister Priyanka Gandhi saying the former minister was being “shamefully hunted down”.
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