Congress leader P Chidambaram was arrested late on Wednesday amid high drama at his Delhi home. A little over an hour before, the former Union minister had held a press conference at his party’s headquarters to dismiss speculation that he was in hiding to avoid arrest.

“I am aghast that I was accused of hiding from the law. On the contrary, I was seeking the protection of the law,” Chidambaram, an accused in the INX Media case, told reporters. “I was aghast that I was accused of running away from justice. On the contrary, I was engaged in the pursuit of justice.”

The 73-year-old leader said he would respect the law “even if applied with an unequal hand by probe agencies”. He did not take any questions from journalists.

Earlier on Wednesday, Chidambaram’s lawyers had moved the Supreme Court to request urgent listing of a plea for protection from arrest. The court asked them to wait despite two attempts by the lawyers, and finally, in the evening, agreed to hear the plea on Friday. In his press conference, Chidambaram said he bows down to the orders of the Supreme Court.

The Central Bureau of Investigation and the Enforcement Directorate had also issued lookout circulars for Chidambaram on Wednesday to prevent him from leaving the country.

The Delhi High Court had on Tuesday rejected Chidambaram’s bail plea. Justice Sunil Gaur had said it was “preposterous to say the prosecution of Chidambaram is baseless, politically motivated and act of vendetta”. The judge said it was a “classic case of money laundering” and prima facie facts showed that Chidambaram was the key conspirator in this case.

The press conference

Chidambaram was accompanied by other senior Congress leaders at his press conference. He said he had been working with his lawyers the previous night to prepare his bail plea to be filed in the Supreme Court. He invoked Article 21 of the Constitution to state that he would choose liberty over life.

Chidambaram claimed that the CBI or the Enforcement Directorate had not filed any chargesheet before a competent court, nor had he been accused of any offence in the INX Media case. “Yet there is a widespread impression that grave offences have been committed and that my son [Karti Chidambaram] and I have committed those offences,” Chidambaram said. “Nothing can be further from the truth. These are lies spread by pathological liars.”

He said the FIR filed by the CBI did not accuse him of any wrongdoing. Suggesting that the investigating agencies should not arrest him until the Supreme Court hears his plea, he said: “Until Friday and beyond, let’s hope the lamp of liberty will shine bright and illuminate the whole country.”

The arrest

As Chidambaram drove back to his Jor Bagh home 10 minutes away from the Congress headquarters, teams of the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate followed him and reached his home minutes after him, PTI reported. Some officers even scaled walls to get inside while another team tried to enter through the back door. He was then taken to the CBI headquarters close by for questioning. Congress supporters tried to block the vehicle he was being taken in.

The two agencies had tried to get Chidambaram earlier too in the last two days after the Delhi High Court rejected his anticipatory bail plea on Tuesday. They had visited his house on Tuesday evening, and the CBI put up a notice outside, asking him to appear before the probe team within two hours of the receipt of summons. On Wednesday morning, a CBI team visited his home again but did not find him there, PTI reported.

Karti Chidambaram calls it ‘political witch hunt’

Chidambaram’s son, Congress MP Karti Chidambaram, tweeted amid the drama at the Jor Bagh residence that it was a “political witch hunt”. “The drama and spectacle being enacted by the agencies is to simply sensationalise and satisfy the voyeuristic pleasure of some,” he said.

Karti Chidambaram is also an accused in the INX Media case.

“This is a totally vindictive and malicious act, done by a pliant agency,” he told ANI. “This is only done to settle political scores. There was absolutely no necessity to have done this.”

He also claimed the arrest was meant to divert attention from “other important issues” and that agencies must file a chargesheet.

The case

In May 2017, the Enforcement Directorate filed a money laundering case against Karti Chidambaram, INX Media and its directors Indrani Mukerjea and Peter Mukerjea. Karti Chidambaram’s company allegedly received Rs 10 lakh from INX Media for helping the company escape punitive action for taking Rs 305 crore in foreign funding in 2007 despite having clearance from the Foreign Exchange Promotion Board for only Rs 4 crore.

Karti Chidambaram has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing in the INX Media case. The Delhi High Court in March admitted a petition by the Central Bureau of Investigation to take on record additional submissions in connection with P Chidambaram’s anticipatory bail application.

The two are also being investigated in the Aircel-Maxis case.

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