CBI charges Chidambaram with forgery, corruption and cheating
The CBI charged former finance minister P Chidambaram, his son Karti and 12 others in the INX Media case. A local court will take up the case on Monday to decide whether to take cognisance of the CBI's charge sheet against Chidambaram.
Chidambaram, his son Karti Chidambaram and 12 others were named in the chargesheet. They included former Niti Aayog CEO Sindhushree Khullar, then additional secretary in the Department of Economic Affairs and member of the now-defunct Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB).
Also charged were Anup K Pujari, former secretary in ministry of micro, small and medium enterprises; Prabodh Saxena, principal secretary, Himachal Pradesh; Rabindra Prasad, then under secretary, FIPB unit; Pradeep Kumar Bagga, then officer on special duty, Department of Economic Affairs (DEA); Ajeet Kumar, then section officer, FIPB. Also named were Karti Chidambaram’s chartered accountant S Bhaskarraman; Advantage Strategic Consulting Private Limited (ASCPL), a shell firm allegedly controlled by Karti, and Chess Management Services Pvt. Ltd, a company cofounded by Chidambaram’s son. The addition of forgery charges is significant, officials said. The CBI had filed a criminal case in May 2017 without naming P Chidambaram as an accused.
Local Court to Take Up CBI Chargesheet, Decide on Trial
The CBI subsequently booked Karti and others with criminal conspiracy, cheating, receiving illegal gratification, influencing public servants and criminal misconduct, all of which have been retained in the chargesheet. P Chidambaram and his son have denied all the accusations, describing them as baseless and politically motivated.
Agencies are investigating other supposedly dubious FIPB clearances granted in violation of norms, apart from INX Media, said people with knowledge of the matter. It’s alleged that Karti Chidambaram was approached by such companies to facilitate such approvals.
CBI is likely to file a supplementary chargesheet in the INX Media case after it receives responses to Letters Rogatory (LRs) sent to five countries. It has sent these to Singapore, Mauritius, Bermuda, the UK and Switzerland seeking details of suspected accounts and payments made.
The agency alleges that bribes were paid at the behest of Karti Chidambaram into offshore accounts.
A local court will take up CBI’s chargesheet on Monday to decide whether to take cognisance of them and set the ball rolling for a trial. Chidambaram is currently facing custodial interrogation by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in the INX Media case. The ED has said that Chidambaram needs to be questioned about 17 bank accounts allegedly linked to him. The agency has elaborated upon the modus operandi allegedly adopted by the accused. The testimony of accused-turned-approver Indrani Mukherjea is believed to have played a crucial role in linking companies that were allegedly paid kickbacks to secure illegal FIPB clearances for INX Media.
Indrani is said to have alleged in her testimony that her company INX Media paid a bribe of $5 million through “offshore payments,” according to people with knowledge of the matter. She and then husband Peter Mukherjea along with an employee of the company had met Chidambaram to discuss the “mode of payments” in March-April 2007. Peter Mukherjea has also been charged by the CBI.
People with knowledge of the matter told ET ASCPL’s directors have said it was used as front by Karti to receive kickbacks for influencing FIPB, which was headed by his father.
ET was the first to report on August 27 that two directors of ASCPL had said in testimony that the actual owner and controller of ASCPL was Karti Chidambaram. The information provided by chartered accountant Bhaskarraman was also significant, said the people cited above.
VIOLATION OF FIPB NORMS
As first reported by ET on August 24, Bhaskarraman testified that ASCPL had paid for “travel bills” and “certain other expenses” of P Chidambaram. ASCPL expense documents seized by investigators showed repeated mention of “PC Sir” under a column titled “work”.
The CBI has alleged that Karti received money from INX Media to manipulate a tax probe to receive investments from Mauritius in violation of FIPB conditions.
The agency said that INX Media stated in its records that Rs 9.96 lakh had been given to ASCPL toward FIPB notification and clarification.
INX Media had sought foreign investment for which permission was granted for Rs 4.62 crore, according to the CBI. The company allegedly violated FIPB norms, generated more than Rs 305 crore of foreign direct investment (FDI) in INX Media by issuing shares to foreign investors at a premium of more than Rs 800 per share. This led to an income tax probe. INX Media then said that the investment was as per FIPB conditions. To escape without any punitive action, INX Media entered into a “criminal conspiracy” with Karti P Chidambaram, whose father was then finance minister, according to the CBI.
Officials, by virtue of the influence exercised over them by Karti, not only ignored serious illegalities on the part of INX Media but also showed undue favour by abusing their position and advised the company to file for fresh clearance, according to the CBI.
FIPB officials ignored the revenue department’s request to probe how the investment was made by the company without its nod, allowing INX Media to file a fresh request that was cleared by the finance ministry.