INX Media Case: arrest & fallout (view full details here)
INX Media Case: arrest & fallout (view full details here): The arrest of Karti Chidambaram, son of senior Congress leader P Chidambaram, injects a further element of confrontation in the polity. Though the arrest took a long time coming, the CBI-ED have all along asserted that they had a cast-iron case of money-laundering and criminal conspiracy in the INX Media case.
Karti was arrested on Wednesday morning at the Chennai airport on his return from London. He stands accused of taking bribes for getting clearance by the Finance Ministry then under his father for foreign investment of about Rs 300 crores in the then newly-floated television company. It is the CBI case that the finance minister Chidambaram himself exceeded his authority to sanction the investment. The now defunct INX Media was owned by Peter and Indrani Mukherjee who are now in jail for the alleged murder of their daughter Sheena Bora. The CBI and the ED had filed separate cases against Karti last year.
A number of raids were carried out at the residential and commercial premises connected with the accused. Karti was examined on multiple occasions, though he went to court repeatedly to avoid the summons. A move by the agencies to impound his passport was rejeceted by the higher courts. He was allowed to go to London on an undertaking that he would return to the country. The agencies feared that Karti was frequently going abroad to destroy evidence of his financial racketeering and to close down accounts in several banks where he had parked his illicit money.
Earlier, the raids had laid bare the Karti connection to a nation-wide network of eye-care clinics which had since pulled down its shutters. Apparently, a bunch of documents found in a raid on a Chennai chartered accountant had exposed the Karti link to it. It is notable that P Chidambaram has found himself at the centre of one scam or the other all through his ministerial career, beginning in the mid-80s. Why, even his wife, Nalini Chidambaram, a lawyer in her own right, found an adverse mention in the media when she helped herself to Rs one crore in cash from a Kolkata lottery-king who was subsequently jailed for cheating tens of thousands of poor people. Upon the cash payment becoming public, she claimed months later that she had declared the same in her income-tax return. The point is that as a lawyer, never mind, as the wife of the finance minister, Nalini Chidambaram, she was supposed to know that she was not legally allowed to accept Rs one crore in cash in the first place. Never mind that the so-called legal fee was way too high for a few hours visit to Kolkata in the company of one of the key accused in the lottery scam.
Meanwhile, coming as the Karti arrest does on the eve of the resumption of the budget session after the recess, it is unlikely that Parliament will be able to do much constructive work. With the Karnataka election due in a few months, and the Lok Sabha election beginning to loom large on the horizon, both the ruling party and the Opposition are bound to sharpen mutual attacks. The PNB scam, the Congress believed, had dented Modi’s anti-corruption image. Though, no NDA politician was remotely involved in the bank scam, which had continued from early 2011, the fact that it happened under Modi’s watch had indeed put the NDA on the back foot.
The long-overdue arrest of Karti gives the NDA reason to rehash yet again all the scams of the UPA. In any case, the Congress will always be on a weak wicket when it rails against corruption. On its part, the NDA itself was on the defensive for having done precious little to apprehend the big fish in the UPA who had profited from various scams. The court rejection of the CBI case in the 2-G scam and in the case against the Maran brothers, and the failure to book Robert Vadra, had allowed the opposition to claim that all these charges were untenable. The cause of failure to convict the crooks might be due to the inaptitude of the agencies involved, but the price in political terms has to be paid by the ruling party. The Karti arrest seems to be an attempt at damage-control, though in all likelihood he might soon get bail. But, the polity has been caught in red-hot controversy which is unlikely to cool till the next general election.