INX Media: Mukerjeas Grilled in Delhi Before Karti Was Charged
Karti Chidambaram (L), Indrani Mukerjea (R). Image used for representational purposes.
Karti Chidambaram (L), Indrani Mukerjea (R). Image used for representational purposes.(Photo: The Quint)

INX Media: Mukerjeas Grilled in Delhi Before Karti Was Charged

Indrani and Peter Mukerjea, the two prime accused in the murder of Sheena Bora, were quietly flown to Delhi from Mumbai by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate in February and March, respectively.

The agencies were keen to find out about an alleged “financial deal” between the Mukerjea’s and Karti Chidambaram, son of Congress leader and former Finance Minister P Chidambaram.

Also Read : INX Media Case: Karti Chidambaram Granted Bail by Delhi HC 

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Alleged Bribe of $700,000 in Connection With Karti Chidambaram

While government sources were chary of revealing the dates on which Indrani and Peter were flown in to Delhi, they said that the former was interrogated by the CBI and ED for “nearly a week” and the latter for “five to six” days.

The agencies had duly submitted separate applications, seeking custody of the duo, to the Mumbai court where the two are facing trial in the April 2012 Sheena Bora murder case. There are provisions in the law which empower investigating agencies to seek custody of an accused person lodged in judicial custody.

Consequently, Indrani and Peter’s Delhi sojourn, in a CBI “safe house”, delayed the trial proceedings, leaving lawyers involved in the case to think aloud of a possible “quid pro quo”.

During their interrogation, Indrani and Peter were confronted with, among other things, some “basic evidence in the form of invoices” related to an alleged bribe of USD 700,000. The bribe was allegedly given to obtain approval of the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) in a bid to seek foreign investment worth Rs 300 crore for INX Media of which they were the co-founders.

ED officials who carried out the interrogation also placed before Indrani and Peter an “explosive” Serious Fraud Investigation Organisation (SFIO) report of 2013, which details the manner in which INX Media was sold, via a maze of companies, to a top Indian business house.

While the SFIO probe was ordered when Chidambaram was the Union finance minister, the ED’s focus during its interrogation of Indrani and Peter was the alleged bribe paid to Karti Chidambaram.

Possible Drug Overdose

Incidentally, the SFIO report had recommended a slew of actions, including invocation of Section 420 and 120 of the Indian Penal Code, against Indrani Mukerjea and a host of executives of INX Media as well as those who worked for another top business house.

According to the report, “Investigation is therefore strongly recommended in case of the Promoter group of companies… which had advanced huge funds to its front companies for making investments in INX New Pvt Ltd to find out the source of huge funds which were advanced to the conduit companies.”

No investigation followed this explicit SFIO recommendation. Instead, there is now a case of alleged bribery against Karti Chidambaram. 

Slightly over a month after returning from Delhi, Indrani, who claimed before the ED and the CBI that she and Peter had met Chidambaram when he was finance minister, was admitted to JJ Hospital for suspected overdose of anti-depressant drugs.

Forensics examination of her blood and contents of her stomach threw up conflicting reports. While the Forensics Laboratory at Kalina concluded that there was no drug overdose, JJ Hospital’s findings revealed otherwise.

Trial Proceedings

After being discharged from JJ Hospital, Indrani alleged a “threat” to her life, which was duly presented by her advocates as a plea for shifting her to a “safe house”. The trial court judge, however, ordered that Indrani be shifted to a separate cell within the precincts of Byculla jail where she would be with two other female undertrials and would be closely observed by the jail authorities.

Indrani, who was due to appear in court on 12 April, plead that she would not be able to attend the proceedings since she was “still weak”. A video conferencing facility was therefore arranged.

Irrespective of whether lawyers representing the accused persons in the Sheena Bora murder case suspect that Indrani “may have played a strategic card by allegedly implicating Karti Chidambaram”, one of the advocates is expected to challenge a CBI plea seeking the physical presence of the agency’s investigating officer during the trial proceedings. Sources said the CBI petition was to come up for hearing on 13 April.

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