Fall in line: SC to Maxis owner
The Supreme Court on Friday gave one last chance to Malaysian-based Maxis owner T Ananda Krishnan to submit himself before the court in the 2G spectrum scam and warned that it would direct the Government to auction the spectrum available with Aircel if he continued to evade summons. As part of a deal, Reliance Communication was set to acquire Aircel, which owes Rs 20,000 crore to a consortium of banks. The court’s move could scuttle this merger.
Keeping the matter for hearing on Friday next, a Bench of Chief Justice JS Khehar, Justices NV Ramana and DY Chandrachud observed that a person who chooses to run away from the due process of law in this country must not be allowed to earn revenue from his business interest in Aircel.
The court was pained to learn that accused Ananda Krishnan and his associate Ralph Marshall failed to appear or even respond to the notices sent by the apex court. The notices were published in two leading newspapers of Malaysia. Both the fugitives could not be put to trial even though they figured in the chargesheet along with Maran brothers.
“Here is the Supreme Court asking a person, who is charge-sheeted, is an accused against whom summonses are issued by the court, to appear before us and he is running away from the court. If it happens to Indians abroad, will the courts there tolerate such conduct? And here it is the Supreme Court asking him. If he doesn’t come we will deal with it,” said the Bench.
Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who appeared for Aircel, submitted that the company is not fully owned by Maxis as projected by the petitioner NGO Centre for PIL, represented by advocate Prashant Bhushan.
Refusing to accept the petitioner’s charge that Aircel was the “alter ego” of Maxis, Singhvi sought time till Friday to demonstrate this position. But the Bench said, “You (Aircel) are fighting the case as proxy for him (Ananda Krishnan). He is an accused running away from due process of this court and people like you (Singhvi) stand up to defend by taking a position to allow them run away. We will adopt any measure to make sure there is no absconder from debt to this country and there is no absconder from summons issued by this court.”
Aircel has outstanding debt of Rs 20,000 crore to banks, which were represented in the court by Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi. In an application, Bhushan said a merger deal has been announced of Aircel and Reliance Communication by which Reliance will hold 50 per cent equity in Aircel in lieu of clearing Aircel’s debts. On this, the Bench proposed, “Rather than the transfer made to Reliance, we will allow the Government of India to auction this very asset which is being merged to some other company. We will not tinker with the Reliance deal but the base price for auction will be Rs 20,000 crore. If somebody gets more, our banks will also get the money and rest can go to Government.”
Singhvi opposed this proposal, saying it amounted to “punishing” Aircel for something it was not able to achieve – secure the presence of Ananda Krishnan. But the Bench was clear that if this last opportunity too was missed by the accused, it will not be open to him to raise the claim of monetary loss as per the proposed action by the court.
Responding to Singhvi, the CJI said, “Nobody is punishing anybody. Here we are asking them to appear in the Indian court. We are asking you to convey them this.”
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