A belligerent Opposition mounted a sharp attack on home minister P Chidambaram in both Houses of Parliament on Monday with fresh charges against his family in the Aircel-Maxis deal of 2006.
But the Centre strongly denied any wrongdoing by him. Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee said in both Houses that there was no delay by the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) in clearing Maxis’s takeover of Aircel, in which Karti, son of the then finance minister, Chidambaram, is alleged to have had a stake.
The Rajya Sabha witnessed a fierce debate on the deal between the leader of the Opposition in the House Arun Jaitley and Chidambaram.
Jaitley said, “There was a highly doubtful FIPB clearance, which may or may not have been granted. Did somebody concerned with the minister (Chidambaram) have any financial transactions through a corporate mask with the companies which were involved in this transaction?”
Jaitley linked the clearance for the deal with business transactions of Ausbridge and Advance Consultancy, the two firms co-owned earlier by Karti, they had the same e-mail and website addresses in 2006:email@example.com.
In an emotional response, Chidambaram said, “No member of my family or I have had any equity at any time indirectly or directly or have any investment in any telecom company.”
Referring to Jaitley as his “friend for 22 years”, Chidambaram said, “It would be much simpler if somebody took a dagger and plunged it into my heart rather than question my integrity.”
Chidambaram stoutly denied any delay, saying timely approval was given to the deal.
Jaitley however sought to trap the minister with another charge: that Aircel had allegedly sold more than 99% stake to Maxis in violation of the Foreign Direct Investment cap of 74% in telecom.
Chidambaram replied that Maxis “can hold and does hold” just 74% stake in Aircel.
Jaitley charged that Chidambaram’s son owned 94% stake in Ausbridge, which in turn holds 67% stake in Advantage Consultancy that paid Rs 26 lakh to Aircel on the eve of the deal’s clearance in 2006. There have been reports that this was allegedly used to buy Aircel shares. The home minister clarified that Ausbridge bought stakes in Advantage in 2011, five years after the deal.