A special court in Delhi on Wednesday extended the judicial custody of Congress leader and former Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram in the INX Media money laundering case till December 11, ANI reported.

The 74-year-old leader, who was first arrested on August 21 by the Central Bureau of Investigation, has been in the Enforcement Directorate’s custody since October 17. He has been in Tihar Jail since September 5.

Earlier in the day, the Supreme Court adjourned the bail hearing of Chidambaram, Bar and Bench reported. The Enforcement Directorate will make its submissions in the case on Thursday.

Chidambaram’s counsel Kapil Sibal told a three-judge Supreme Court bench headed by Justice R Banumathi that the directorate merely wanted to keep the Congress leader in custody for as long as possible. “Earlier they [ED] argued that they immediately needed Chidambaram for questioning, but then they didn’t interrogate him after his judicial custody was over,” Sibal argued. “They just wanted me in jail.”

Sibal pointed to the High Court order rejecting Chidambaram’s bail plea. “It is said that a wrong message will be sent to the public if I am released on bail as though I am some Ranga Billa,” the lawyer said. Ranga and Billa were two criminals in the 1970s who came to Delhi after being released from Mumbai’s Arthur Road Jail. They kidnapped and brutalised two teenagers in August 1978.

Sibal said the allegations against the Congress leader were yet to be established. “If they are taken to be established, what is the point of a charge?” he asked. “May as well convict me. The ‘gravity’ of the matter will never change. So I should be incarcerated all my life?”.

On November 15, the Delhi High Court had denied Chidambaram bail, saying the allegations were serious in nature and that he had “played an active role” in it. However, the court noted that its observations were not final in nature. The former finance minister moved the top court three days later.

On Tuesday, the Enforcement Directorate opposed the Congress leader’s bail application, alleging that he used the “influential office” of finance minister for “personal gains” and laundered proceeds of crime to conceal “tainted money”. “The present case is a case of economic offence which itself constitutes a class apart and is considered to be the gravest offence cutting the very root of purity and probity of public administration,” the investigating agency said.

In October, the Supreme Court had granted the former minister bail in connection with the inquiries being conducted by the Central Bureau of Investigation, dismissing its contention that he was a flight risk. The agency has filed a review petition in the top court.

The INX Media case

The Enforcement Directorate filed the money laundering case against P Chidambaram’s son Karti Chidambaram, INX Media, and the company’s owners Indrani and Peter Mukerjea in May 2017.

The Central Bureau of Investigation has claimed there were irregularities in the foreign direct investment clearance granted to INX Media by the Foreign Investment Promotion Board in 2007. Chidambaram was the finance minister at the time. The agency has submitted purported emails between INX Media and a company belonging to Karti Chidambaram, claiming that these emails will “prove offences committed”.