Caged parrot refuses to speak
J Gopikrishnan / Pioneer - OpED/ Feb 14, 2017
The Aircel-Maxis scam was the invention of the Central Bureau of Investigation in mid-April 2011, when the 2G scam case against former Minister for Telecommunications A Raja was rocking the country. Certain media houses began flashing the name of former Telecom Minister Dayanidhi Maran, who also fell into the CBI’s net. Details of complaints filed by Aircel founder C Sivasankaran, who accused Maran for “arm-twisting” him to sell his company to Malaysian conglomerate Maxis Group, also came in. Those days, on a daily basis, the Supreme Court’s 2G Bench was hearing the case, and the Congress-led UPA Government was at the receiving end.
On July 7, 2011, CBI counsel KK Venugopal declared in the apex court that the agency found “there was an element of coercion” from Maran’s side in the selling of Aircel to Maxis. And, Maran was forced to give his resignation from the Union Cabinet. In September 2011, the CBI filed a detailed FIR in the 2G court. The DMK was then in the dock.
But the tables turned against the Congress in the Aircel-Maxis scam, when in April 26, 2012, BJP leader Subramanian Swamy exposed the role of Finance Minister P Chidambaram, and Rs 26 lakh money trails to his son Karti’s companies. The Aircel-Maxis scam started from the dubious FIPB (Foreign Investment Promotion Board) approvals granted by Chidambaram in early 2006.
The revelations sent the CBI’s case against Maran into a deep freezer. At one point, CBI officers even wrote, “No case”, against Maran. The CBI officers’ opinion was overruled by Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi in mid-2014. After this, the CBI filed a chargesheet against Maran and his brother heading the family firm, Sun TV Group, and Maxis owners in August 2014.
During this period, a curious deal happened. The Maran family sold its Spice Jet airlines to its earlier owner Ajay Singh. This deal was in violation of the Securities and Exchange Board of India guidelines, as there were no open offers. The dispute has reached the Delhi High Court. In the chargesheet against Maran, the CBI detailed the violations of Chidambaram in granting the FIPB approval to Maxis. The CBI declared it would soon file a supplementary chargesheet. It interrogated Chidambaram in December 2014. The main illegalities in the FIPB approval in Aircel-Maxis scam are:
1. Those days, the FIPB had the power to approve Rs 600 crore worth foreign investment. Above this limit, the proposal filed had to go to the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) for approval. Maxis, in its application to the FIPB, said its investment was $800 million (Rs 3,600 crore).
Chidambaram cleared the FIPB approval and did not send the proposal to the CCEA. This was perhaps the lone case not sent to CCEA by Chidambaram in his career as Finance Minister. He sent the Rs 675-crore FIPB-cleared file of Maxis Group’s investment in Maran family’s Sun TV Group to the CCEA in January 2007.
2. Maxis, in its application to the FIPB said it was acquiring 73.99 per cent shares of Aircel. Those days, the maximum foreign investment permitted in telecom sector was 74 per cent. But Maxis declared to the Malaysian Stock Exchange that it had acquired 99.93 per cent in Aircel. So, Maxis was actually cheating the Indian Government.
3. The 74 per cent of the Aircel shares were taken over for Rs 3,600 crore. Shockingly, the rest 26 per cent was sold at just Rs 28 crore!
4. Now, the Comptroller and Auditor-General found that, though illegal FIPB approval was for Rs 3,600 crore, but the actual money flow from Malaysia was more than Rs 4,900 crore! Where has this extra Rs 1,300 crore gone?
But, after declaring Chidambaram’s illegalities in the chargesheet against the Maran brothers in August 2014, nothing happened from the CBI side, and the agency never came back to the 2G court, leading to the Maran brothers’ discharge from the case this February. The Maran brothers were always contradicting the curious arm-twisting theory of the CBI, citing Chidambaram’s FIPB approval.
The 2G court judge OP Saini’s very lengthy discharge order relies on the CBI’s lack of evidences on the arm-twisting theory targeting the Marans. It’s another question as to why the judge went for the framing of charges procedure, although the CBI had not provided the promised evidence against Chidambaram. He should have asked the CBI to clarify this matter.
The CBI’s silence in alerting the judge about this aspect is also intriguing. There is another question: Why did the judge speed up the discharge order, when, based on advocate Prashant Bhushan’s petition, the Supreme Court had begun acting against the Maxis owners, when they were in the process of selling Aircel to Reliance Communications and spectrum-sharing arrangements with Airtel?
The CBI is the villain in these developments. All the corrupt forces in the country muzzled have CBI. Ashok Tiwari, then Joint Director of the CBI, who summoned Chidambaram in December 2014, was unceremoniously removed from the agency. CBI Director Anil Sinha prevented him from questioning Chidambaram, leaving the interrogation to junior officers.
Within days, Tiwari was shunted out to the redundant ‘Rajiv Gandhi assassination conspiracy’ case studying division; subsequently he was thrown out from the CBI and despatched to his parent cadre. Now, Tiwari is the Managing Director of Himachal Pradesh Road Transport Corporation. Enforcement Directorate’s (ED) Investigating Officer Rajeshwar Singh too was shunted out from the organisation for probing money trails to Karti Chidambaram’s firms. The Ministry of Finance even misled the court, that the probe in the Aircel-Maxis case was over and that there wasn’t any need of the services of Rajeshwar Singh, in July 2014!
After Swamy’s petition, the Supreme Court intervened to post him permanently in the ED. After raids, the ED found two lakh dollar money trails from three Maxis Group companies to Karti’s company, Chess Management Services Pvt Ltd. Karti has not yet appeared before the ED, even after he was issued three summon notices. Why was he not arrested for repeatedly evading summons? .
Now, the Supreme Court has asked petitioner Swamy to provide certain documents. What the court wants to know is, whether Chidambaram was aware that Rs 600 crore was the FIPB’s limit. The Ministry of Finance’s order dated February 18, 2003, clearly stated Rs 600 crore was the limit and that Minister had to sent the FIPB files above this limit to the CCEA.
With such evidence, why is the CBI not acting on the sham FIPB approval in the Aircel-Maxis scam. Why is it waiting for the court’s direction, which is sitting on Swamy’s petition since May 2012.
(The writer is Special Correspondent, The Pioneer)