NEW DELHI: The bail pleas of two senior editors of Zee News accused of attempting to extort Rs 100 crore from Congress MP Mr Naveen Jindal’s company was on Wednesday rejected by a Delhi court, which remanded them in two-day police custody.
Mr Sudhir Chaudhary, head of Zee News, and Mr Samir Ahluwalia, editor of Zee Business, who were arrested for allegedly trying to extort money from Mr Jindal’s group for not broadcasting news reports on coal scam linking his firm, were produced before the metropolitan magistrate, Ms Gomati Manocha, who accepted police’s plea for their custodial interrogation.
The prosecution had said their custodial interrogation was necessary to unearth the conspiracy and the alleged complicity of channel’s chairman Mr Subhash Chandra and its MD Mr Punit Goenka, who are also named as accused in the case.
The duo will now be produced before the court on November 30.
Mr Chaudhary and Mr Ahluwalia were arrested on Tuesday night on the complaint by Mr Jindal’s company filed in October.
Both the journalists have been booked under section 384 (extortion), 420 (cheating), 120 B (criminal conspiracy) and 511 (punishment for attempting to commit offences punishable with imprisonment for life or other imprisonment) of the IPC.
Earlier, before the court proceedings, the Jindal group in a statement said law was taking its own course and called it unfortunate that Zee TV has come out with a comment that the arrest of its editors in the case was a ‘black day’ for the media.
“Zee TV’s comment that the arrest of its editors is a black day for the media is unfortunate. The arrest of the two journalists being termed black day is rather demeaning the credibility of the media. Instead, black day was the day when these editors tried to extort 100 crore rupees from Jindal group under the garb of media,” the statement said.
The Delhi police said that after the arrest of the two journalists, it has sent a notice to Mr Chandra asking him to join investigations in connection with the case.
The additional public prosecutor, Mr Rajiv Mohan opposed the bail plea of the two editors and said their custody was needed to ascertain the alleged complicity of Mr Chandra as they had demanded Rs 100 crore from Jindal Steel and Power Ltd in the form of advertisements to the channel.
JSPL is among the companies named in the CAG report as one of the beneficiaries of the controversial coal block allocations.
The police also said it needed to find out the source from which the CAG report, which is the subject matter of dispute between the news channel and the Jindal group, was obtained.
The prosecutor said the probe agency has evidence in the form of video and audio recordings of the two accused while demanding the money.
However, advocate Ms Rebecca John, opposed the prosecution’s theory and contended that as per the FIR registered by the crime branch on October 2, three persons of Jindal group had approached Zee News.
“The meeting was at the behest of the complainant and not by us. The alleged tampering of the CAG report is not mentioned in the FIR and it is also not possible for others to fabricate it as it is a government report,” Ms John, appearing for the news channel, argued.
She further said that the FIR is a “counter blast” to put the media on back foot so that no programme could be aired against Jindal group for their alleged involvement in allocation of coal blocks.
Ms John also claimed that the police are acting as a tool for the state by arresting the two media persons.
Earlier in the day, Zee News demanded the immediate release of its two journalists alleging that the police action was “illegal” and “designed for something else”.
Denying allegations of attempt to extort Rs 100 crore from JPSL, the Zee News CEO, Mr Alok Agrawal accused the UPA-II government of “intimidating” the media because of its “mistakes”.
Questioning the arrests and its timing, Mr Agrawal and Zee lawyer Ms R K Handoo said the detentions were deliberately made before a holiday so that regular bail could be denied. Mr Handoo said the arrest has been made under a section which speaks of a non-bailable offence and not a bailable offence.
However, during the court proceedings, the Delhi police said three officials of Jindal group – Mr Ravi Mutreja, head of corporate communications, Mr Sushil Kumar, director, and Mr Vivek Mittal, senior DGM, were approached by the two editors of the Zee News offering not to broadcast the news reports regarding the alleged involvement of the JSPL in the coal blocks allocation scam.
The prosecutor said the channel had demanded the money in the form of advertisements for a period of five years.
“We need their sustained custodial interrogation to unearth the conspiracy and to know the source who had cooked up this idea of alleged extortion of money from the Jindal group as it is not a single person decision.
“This money was for the whole (Zee) Group so many others are involved behind the conspiracy,” Ms Mohan said while accusing Mr Chandra of being complicit in the whole episode.
He said the stories aired on their channel regarding the alleged involvement of Jindal group in coal blocks allocation scam were “concocted” and the probe in the case was on.