ED ques­tions Karti’s CA in laun­der­ing cases against PC

In­ter­ro­gated For 18 Hours In Past 2 Days How po­lice custody dif­fers from judicial custody

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - Times Nation - [email protected] times­group.com

New Delhi: The En­force­ment Direc­torate has over the last two days been ques­tion­ing S Bhaskarara­man, a key wit­ness in the money laun­der­ing cases against former fi­nance min­is­ter P Chidambara­m. He was ques­tioned about his role as the char­tered ac­coun­tant who al­legedly ma­nip­u­lated a maze of ac­counts and pay­ments.

Bhaskarara­man was the char­tered ac­coun­tant of Chidambara­m’s son Karti Chidambara­m, who is a co-ac­cused in the Air­cel-Maxis money laun­der­ing case. He was ques­tioned for more than 18 hours on Fri­day and Satur­day along with his wife Padma Bhaskarara­man.

Bhaskarara­man’s ques­tion­ing is con­sid­ered crucial be­fore ED moves to take P Chidambara­m in its custody for in­ter­ro­ga­tion once his judicial custody is over on Septem­ber 19. Chidambara­m is cur­rently lodged in Tihar jail af­ter spend­ing 15 days in CBI custody.

Bhaskarara­man’s ques­tion­ing be­gan a day af­ter the agency in­ter­ro­gated the former fi­nance min­is­ter ’s per­sonal sec­re­tary K V K Peru­mal. It is be­lieved the two are privy to undis­closed and be­nami as­sets al­legedly ac­quired by Karti Chidambara­m in In­dia and abroad through shell com­pa­nies, many of them op­er­ated by Bhaskarara­man through his wife and brother-in­law Ravi Vis­vanathan.

Bhaskarara­man had also ex­e­cuted the sale deed of Chidambara­m’s Jor Bagh res­i­dence, worth over Rs 16 crore, which has now been at­tached by the agency in the INX-Me­dia money laun­der­ing case. Bhaskarara­man was ar­rested by ED in Fe­bru­ary last year in this case and is cur­rently out on bail.

On Satur­day, the agency also ques­tioned Bhaskarara­man’s wife Padma. The ED in­ves­ti­ga­tion has re­vealed that Bhaskarara­man was a share­holder in Ad­van­tage Strate­gic Con­sult­ing Pvt Ltd (ASCPL) while his wife Padma was a di­rec­tor along with her brother Ravi Vis­vanathan.

All the di­rec­tors and share­hold­ers of ASCPL, in­clud­ing Bhaskarara­man, had writ­ten wills be­queathe­ing their shares to Karti’s daugh­ter Aditi. The iden­ti­cal wills were later re­cov­ered by the ED in a search op­er­a­tion at Karti’s Chen­nai of­fice. Both Karti and his father have so far de­nied any as­so­ci­a­tion with ASCPL. ED has al­leged that ASCPL is a shell com­pay in which Chidambara­m had re­ceived pay­offs from Air­cel-Maxis and INX-Me­dia in lieu of grant­ing for­eign in­vest­ment pro­mo­tion board ap­provals.

The agency also claims to have es­tab­lished Karti’s “ben­e­fi­cial own­er­ship” of ASCPL in which the al­leged pay­offs from INX-Me­dia and Air­cel-Maxis were re­ceived as claimed by ED. In his state­ment recorded be­fore the agency in Jan­uaryFe­bru­ary 2018, the Si­va­ganga MP had said that he was di­rec­tor of Aus­bridge Hold­ings and In­vest­ment Pvt Ltd from 2006 to 2012 and also 66% share­holder of the com­pany. In 2011, Aus­bridge had ac­quired ma­jor­ity shares of ASCPL, which made him the “ben­e­fi­cial owner of the com­pany”. Karti has, how­ever, de­nied the charge claim­ing that he re­signed from Aus­bridge in 2012.

The in­sis­tence by former fi­nance min­is­ter P Chidambara­m, who is fight­ing a le­gal bat­tle against CBI and ED in INX Me­dia case, that he be kept in po­lice custody and not in judicial custody, has put the fo­cus on dif­fer­ences be­tween the two forms of custody.

What is po­lice custody?

Po­lice custody means that po­lice have phys­i­cal custody of the ac­cused while judicial custody means an ac­cused is in the custody of the court. In the former, the ac­cused is lodged in the lock-up of a po­lice sta­tion. Ear­lier ac­cused were afraid of po­lice custody as they were sub­jected to ha­rass­ment and phys­i­cal tor­ture but such in­ci­dents have become fewer af­ter the SC judge­ments enu­mer­ated the rights of ac­cused and brought many po­lice of­fi­cers to task for cus­to­dial tor­ture. Re­source­ful ac­cused, politi­cians as well as oth­ers, cer­tainly en­joy im­mu­nity from “third-de­gree” or, to use Amer­i­canese, “en­hanced in­ter­ro­ga­tion meth­ods”.

Af­ter lodg­ing of an FIR for a cog­nis­able of­fence (which pro­vides for pun­ish­ment of more than 3 years), po­lice ar­rest the ac­cused to pre­vent him from tam­per­ing with ev­i­dence or in­flu­enc­ing wit­nesses. Within 24 hours of ar­rest, po­lice pro­duce the ac­cused be­fore a court (manda­tory un­der law) and seek his re­mand to po­lice custody to en­able it to com­plete in­ves­ti­ga­tions ex­pe­di­tiously. It is for po­lice to decide how long it is war­ranted to keep the ac­cused in its custody, which ex­pires in 15 days.

What is judicial custody?

In se­ri­ous of­fences, the court may ac­cede to po­lice re­quest to re­mand the ac­cused in judicial custody af­ter the ex­piry of po­lice custody so that ev­i­dence or wit­nesses are not tam­pered with. Law man­dates fil­ing of chargeshee­t in crim­i­nal cases within 90 days. If the chargeshee­t is not filed within 90 days, the court nor­mally grants bail to the ac­cused. But in heinous of­fences, like mur­der and rape, the ac­cused is nor­mally kept in judicial custody (kept in jail un­der the court’s custody) for a longer time de­spite fil­ing of the chargeshee­t so that the process of trial is not in­flu­enced.

The judicial custody may be of 60 days for all other crimes if the court is con­vinced that suf­fi­cient rea­sons ex­ist, fol­low­ing which the ac­cused or sus­pect must be re­leased on bail.

Why did P Chidambara­m re­quest court to send him to ED custody?

When Chidambara­m was sent to Tihar jail for 14 days in judicial custody by a CBI spe­cial court in Delhi af­ter his re­mand to CBI was over, he filed an ap­pli­ca­tion re­quest­ing the court to send him to ED custody though he could have re­mained in judicial custody with­out ED for­mally ar­rest­ing him. The former FM’s ear­lier in­sis­tence to re­main in CBI custody in­stead of get­ting lodged in Tihar jail (in judicial custody) in INX Me­dia case was prob­a­bly driven by the fact that he would lose the com­fort of a guest house and home­cooked food if sent to Tihar, where he would be treated like other jail in­mates with­out such fa­cil­i­ties.

In ad­di­tion, get­ting lodged in jail un­der judicial custody ran the risk of get­ting ar­rested by ED yet again for the painful process to be re­peated - spend­ing up to 15 days in ED custody, and then get­ting re­manded in judicial custody till he gets bail from a com­pe­tent court. The pur­pose be­hind Chidambara­m plead­ing the trial court to send him to ED custody while he is un­der­go­ing judicial custody in CBI was per­haps aimed at short­en­ing the pe­riod of his stay in Tihar.

It is still sur­pris­ing why Chi­dam­abaram re­quested to be sent to ED custody, which many in the know of the process feel is more rig­or­ous than CBI custody. When in ED custody, an ac­cused is ques­tioned through­out the day and for the night, he is kept in a lockup at a nearby po­lice sta­tion, which in this case could ei­ther be Tugh­laq Road po­lice sta­tion or the one at Ti­lak Marg, un­like the guest house where Chidambara­m was lodged while in CBI custody.

It is well set­tled by SC that jail is ex­cep­tion and bail is the rule but in cases of heinous of­fences, in­clud­ing money laun­der­ing cases, the court had held that cus­to­dial in­ter­ro­ga­tion is needed to un­earth the truth and said any pro­tec­tion given to ac­cused dur­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion would ham­per the probe.

The high pro­file ac­cused pre­fer po­lice custody over judicial custody to avoid social stigma and em­bar­rass­ment of be­ing lodged in jail with other in­mates where he will have no ac­cess to lux­ury and com­fort given in po­lice custody.

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