HC quashes CBI's look out circular against Karti Chidambaram

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Chennai:

The Madras High Court on Monday quashed CBI’s look out circular (LOC) against Karti Chidambaram, the son of former Union minister P Chidambaram, in connection with the INX Media case, saying that it was issued in haste and in the absence of conditions warranting it.

A bench comprising Chief Justice Indira Banerjee and Justice Abdul Quddhose gave the order allowing a petition by Karti challenging the LOC issued in 2017.

It, however, said the order will not impact the criminal proceedings initiated pursuant to the FIR or any other proceedings taken up against the petitioner.

“...in our view, the Look Out Circular was issued in hot haste when the conditions precedent for issuance of such circular did not exist. The impugned Look out Circular is, thus, liable to be set aside,” the bench said in its order.

Since the LOC had been quashed on this ground, there was no need to go into the questions of whether it could have been issued without statutory sanction or whether the respondents had jurisdiction, the bench said.

On whether the writ court should exercise its discretionary jurisdiction to interfere with the LOC, it said: “An LOC, which is a coercive measure to make a person surrender and consequentially interferes with his right of personal liberty and free movement, certainly has adverse civil consequences.

“This Court, therefore, holds that in exercise of power of judicial review under Article 226 of the Constitution, the writ Court can interfere with an LOC,” it said.

Refusing the arguments of Additional Solicitor General G Rajagopalan, the bench said such LOCs cannot be issued as a matter of course but only when reasons exist, where an accused deliberately evades arrest or does not appear in the trial court.

The case relates to alleged irregularities in the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance to INX Media for receiving overseas funds to the tune of Rs 305 crore in 2007 when P Chidambaram was the Union finance minister.

The CBI, which filed the FIR on May 15 last year, had arrested Karti on February 28 this year at the Chennai airport on his arrival from London. He was granted bail by the Delhi High Court on March 23.

The LOC was issued by the Bureau of Immigration and the Foreigner Regional Registration Officer (FRRO), under the Union Home Ministry, at the request of the CBI to prevent Karti from travelling abroad.

During the pendency of the petitions, the high court had permitted Karti to fly to Europe on a business tour but asked him to return home by February 28.

Initially, a single judge bench of the Madras High Court had stayed the LOC, but on an appeal by the CBI, the apex court had put on hold operation of the HC order on August 10 last year.

On January 31, the Supreme Court remanded back to the Madras High Court the matter with a request to dispose it of within two months.

Accordingly, the first bench headed by Justice Banerjee heard the matter and had reserved orders on March 19.

In his petition, Karti had contended that the look out circular was part of the central government’s “political vendetta” and issued “arbitrarily” and without jurisdiction to prevent him from travelling abroad.

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