INX Media case: Can't allow inspection of seized documents by accused, CBI tells Delhi High Court

CBI counsel Anupam S. Sharma submitted that “secrecy is important” in the case as the investigation was still going on.

As investigation in the INX media case is still on, the accused – Congress leader P. Chidambaram and his son Karti — cannot be allowed inspection of the seized documents as it may result in tampering of evidence, the CBI told the Delhi High Court on Friday.

Justice Mukta Gupta, who was hearing CBI’s challenge to a trial court order allowing inspection of documents kept in ‘Malkhana’ (room keeping case properties) by the accused and their counsel, said that the issue of inspection has been settled by the Supreme Court in favour of the accused.

“For most of the things, onus has been shifted to the accused. Law also has to progress. Every investigating agency seizes 1000 documents. They rely on 500 and keep 500. It is not your property. They may have exculpatory material for the accused,” said the judge who expressed her inclination to dismiss the petition.

The court reserved its order on CBI’s petition and allowed the agency as well as the accused to file their written submissions.

“Interim order to continue,” it stated.

CBI counsel Anupam S Sharma submitted that “secrecy is important” in the case as the investigation was still going on.

“Then you say that trial will stop till you complete the investigation… you tell me how much time your further investigation will take and then it will be decided (subsequently) which document is to be given,” the court responded.

The court stated that the apex court, in a case pertaining to the deficiencies in criminal trials, has said that an accused can ask for seized documents which have not been relied upon by the prosecuting agency.

“We have forgotten what basic criminal law is… Para 11 (of the Supreme Court order) is for agencies like you who are creating hurdle in every matter,” the court remarked.

The judge informed that the relevant high court rules on the issue would be notified soon.

CBI counsel contended that the Supreme Court order speaks of providing a list of the documents which have not been relied upon by the prosecution.

The high court had on May 18 stayed trial proceedings in the case involving Mr Chidambaram and his son Karti.

It had also issued notice and sought responses of Mr Chidambaram and others on the CBI’s plea.

The CBI has sought to set aside the special judge’s March 5, 2021 order to the extent that it directed CBI to allow inspection of documents kept in Malkhana by the respondents/accused/ their counsel.

Besides, the CBI has also sought setting aside the observations in the order which says that the agency is required to file or produce before the court all the documents collected by it during investigation.

The trial court had also said that the accused are entitled to copies of such documents or inspections thereof, irrespective of the fact whether they are being relied upon by the CBI or not.

In its plea before the high court, the CBI had said that this case involved high level of corruption with wide ramifications for the society, and while the accused have a right to a fair trial, the collective interest of the society could not be impinged upon.

A fair trial is not what the accused wants in the name of a ‘fair trial’ but it must soothe the ultimate goal of justice. Although right to fair trial of the respondents/ accused was not infringed, since all documents relied upon by petitioner (CBI) were provided to them, it said.

The agency contended that the very essence of trial is to unearth the truth for which the court cannot assist the accused in search of a plausible defence.

The CBI had registered its case on May 15, 2017, alleging irregularities in a Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance granted to INX Media group for receiving overseas funds of ₹305 crore in 2007 during Mr Chidambaram’s tenure as finance minister.

Thereafter, the ED had lodged the money laundering case. The Chidambarams are on bail in the case.

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