PC, Karti face CBI probe in Aircel deal
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) will probe the role of former Finance Minister P Chidambaram and his son Karti in reported irregularity in the grant of FIPB clearance to Aircel-Maxis deal in 2006. Highly-placed CBI sources said that the duo would be questioned at “some point of time” about the timing of the FIPB clearance and banking transactions of a Karti-linked company with Aircel.
The Aircel-Maxis deal is back in the news after Attorney General Mukul Rohtagi’s recent legal opinion to the CBI about existence of enough evidence to prosecute former Telecom Minister Dayanidhi Maran and his brother Kalanidhi Maran in the deal. Maran faces charges of forcing Aircel owner Sivasankaran to sell his entire stake in the company to Maxis, owned by Malaysian businessman T Ananda Krishnan. In return, the media company, Astro, belonging to the Maxis Group, invested Rs 650 crores in Sun TV network, run by the Marans.
In 2006, the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB), under then Finance Minister P Chidambaram, cleared the takeover of the Aircel by the Maxis, in alleged violation of several binding provisions.
“Several aspects of FIPB clearance need to be closely examined,” said a CBI official, adding, “Now that we are over with examining Maran’s role in arm-twisting Sivasankaran to sell off Aircel to Maxis, we will proceed to examine the role of Chidambaram and his son.”
CBI sources said that they would probe the reason behind the transfer of Rs 26 lakh given as loans and advances to Aircel Televenture Ltd by Advantage Strategic Consulting Private Limited in which majority stake was held by another little know firm, Ausbridge Holdings and Investments Private Limited. In this company, Karti held 94 per cent stake. This transaction took place during the period when the FIPB was seized with the Aircel-Maxis deal.
BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, who has filed a PIL against this deal in the Supreme Court, has repeatedly alleged that Rs 26 lakh was a payment by “Karti-controlled Advantage to acquire five per cent shares in Sivasankaran’s Aircel Televenture, which received around Rs 4,000 crore (Rs 40 billion) from Maxis.”
He had also alleged that then Finance Minister Chidambaram delayed the clearance until his son received shares in Sivasankaran’s company. Chidambaram denied the allegation both inside and outside the parliament.
The CBI may take up with Chidambaram how the FIPB clearance was given to the Aircel-Maxis deal when the latter declared to the Malaysian Stock Exchange that it had acquired 99.7 per cent shares in Aircel. This is a clear violation of Indian law, which permitted maximum of 74 per cent foreign investment in the telecom sector.
In a recent letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Swamy accused the CBI of “providing escape route” to Chidambaram. The BJP leader said the CBI was limiting the probe only into the role of Maran and not probing the illegal FIPB clearance given to the deal by Chidambaram.
“The source of the Aircel-Maxis scam lies in the dubious illegal FIPB clearance approved by then Finance Minister P Chidambaram in 2006. There are blatant violations in the FIPB clearance of the Aircel-Maxis deal. In 2006, when only 74 per cent equity ownership was allowed in telecom sector to foreign companies, the Malaysian company Maxis informed the Malaysian Stock Exchange that the company had acquired more than 99 per cent of the Aircel shares, and had yet obtained FIPB clearance.
“This fraud was committed by creating a front company headed by an Indian citizen Ms Sunita Reddy, but the funds of the company were provided by a Maxis affiliate,” said Swamy in the letter recently wrote to PM.
He also said the fact about 30 per cent holding of Saudi Telecom in Maxis was hushed up during the approval stage in FIPB. “This Saudi control was not taken notice by the FIPB to avoid the required clearance from the IB and the Home Ministry,” said Swamy.
He also pointed out to the huge differences in the price of shares of Aircel to different companies. As many 76 per cent shares were sold at more than Rs 3,000 crore, while the rest 26 per cent was sold at just Rs 28 crore during the same period.
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