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Former India Finance Minister Arrested on Corruption Allegations

Bibhudatta Pradhan and Upmanyu Trivedi

(Bloomberg) -- India’s former finance minister and a senior leader of the main opposition Congress party, Palaniappan Chidambaram, was sent to the custody of the country’s federal investigative agency for four days by a local court on Thursday following his arrest by for alleged corruption during his tenure.

Ajay Kumar Kuhar, a special judge appointed to the case, allowed the Central Bureau of Investigation custody of Chidambaram until Aug. 26. He will be allowed regular medical examinations and permission to meet family and lawyers, the court said.

Chidambaram was taken Wednesday night from his residence in New Delhi, soon after he appeared at Congress party offices to address reporters, saying he had not been hiding for the past 24 hours -- as many believed -- but seeking protection of the law.

Flanked by party colleagues and senior lawyers he said no charge had been filed in a court by the investigating agencies. “Yet, there is a widespread impression that grave offences have been committed and my son and I have committed those offences,” said Chidambaram. “Nothing can be further from the truth.”

When Chidambaram returned to his residence after addressing the media, a team from the CBI arrived and whisked him away.

A lawyer with a degree from Harvard Business School, Chidambaram is one of the most prominent members of the Congress party and is a lawmaker in the upper house of parliament.

He’s been facing allegations since May 2017, when the CBI registered a case against his son and unknown officials from the finance ministry for corruption in an overseas investment approval when Chidambaram was the finance minister in 2007. Since then, the Enforcement Directorate, which investigates financial crimes, has also begun investigating a case of alleged money laundering.

Chidambaram had sought interim protection in both cases, however the Delhi High Court on Tuesday refused to grant him bail, saying he appeared to be the “kingpin” and “key conspirator” of the alleged scam. The Supreme Court will hear his plea on Friday seeking a stay of the High Court order.

Now 73, Chidambaram was finance minister for more than six years in Manmohan Singh’s Congress-led coalition government until 2014 and was also the country’s home minister following the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai.

Chidambaram has denied all the allegations and earlier said the government was intimidating him to silence his criticisms of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration. The Congress party has accused the Modi government of targeting opposition leaders, calling the action a “political vendetta.”

“This is quite unusual, unprecedented,” said Ajoy Bose, a Delhi-based independent political analyst, adding it’s difficult to understand whether the custodial interrogation of Chidambaram was necessary when he was already appearing before an investigating agency. “Obviously questions will be raised about whether this is just or if there is some political angle to it.”

(Updates with court order in first and second paragraphs.)

To contact the reporters on this story: Bibhudatta Pradhan in New Delhi at bpradhan@bloomberg.net;Upmanyu Trivedi in New Delhi at utrivedi2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Ruth Pollard at rpollard2@bloomberg.net, Abhay Singh, Tuhin Kar

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