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Monday, Nov 18, 2019

CBI files chargesheet against P Chidambaram, son Karti in INX Media case

The CBI chargesheet in the INX Media case includes 14 names including the former finance minister’s son Karti and 12 others.

india Updated: Oct 19, 2019 00:45 IST
Neeraj Chauhan and Richa Banka
Neeraj Chauhan and Richa Banka
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Former finance minister P Chidambaram
Former finance minister P Chidambaram(Sanchit Khanna/HT PHOTO)

The Central Bureau of Investigation on Friday filed a charge sheet against senior Congress politician P Chidambaram, his son Karti Chidambaram, INX Media co-founder Peter Mukerjea and 11 others, accusing them of corruption, cheating and criminal conspiracy over foreign investment the broadcaster received 12 years ago.

The charge sheet, the first filed in the case, alleged that Chidambaram, who is under custody in Tihar jail, misused his office when he was finance minister in the Congress-led government in 2007 by granting Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) approval to INX Media in exchange for bribes.

CBI has added allegations pertaining to forgery in the charge sheet, which weren’t in the first information report (FIR) it registered on May 15, 2017.

Also Watch l CBI & ED heat on Chidambaram: All there is to know about the INX media case 

Other than the Chidambarams and Peter Mukerjea, CBI has named six government officials in the charge sheet. They are Indian Administrative Service officer Sindhushree Khullar, additional secretary in the department of economic affairs at that time; Anup K Pujari, then joint secretary, foreign trade; Prabodh Saxena, then director of FIPB (currently power secretary in the Himachal Pradesh government); Rabindra Prasad,then under-secretary at FIPB; ex-section officer in the department of economic affairs Ajeet Kumar Dungdung, and Pradeep Kumar Bagga, then officer on special duty in the department of economic affairs.

Karti Chidambaram’s chartered accountant and close aide, S Bhaskararaman, and two companies linked to him – Advantage Strategic Consultancy Pvt Ltd (ASCPL) and Chess Management Services Pvt Ltd,-- apart from INX Media and INX News Pvt Ltd have also been named by CBI.

Reacting to the CBI charge sheet, Karti Chidambaram, a member of the Lok Sabha, said: “It’s been done only to beat the 60-day deadline of my father’s custody. We will deal with it as per legal procedure and will be vindicated. Unfortunate that family, associates and members of the civil service are pulled into a pure political score-settling fight.”

The National Democratic Alliance government has denied that it was seeking political vendetta, saying the law was taking its course.

Khullar didn’t respond to a call and text message from HT. Saxena couldn’t be reached for comment.

Chidambaram’s counsel and senior Congress leader Abhishek Singhvi said, “Filing of a charge sheet in 60 days is a normal process. What is interesting is that it makes no charge of tampering with evidence or influencing any witness, which was wrongly the repeated basis for the CBI to seek Chidambaram’s custody. Secondly, the bail jurisprudence has been converted illegally into relay jurisprudence, viz, one agency (ED) is waiting to arrest and take Chidambaram into custody as soon as his custody period in CBI gets over, like a relay race.”

CBI said on Friday that INX paid ~9.96 lakh into a bank account of ASCPL despite the fact that the latter didn’t ostensibly provide the broadcaster any service to deserve the payment.

Indrani Mukerjea, co-founder of INX Media with her husband Peter, turned approver in the case in January and she testified to the role played by P Chidambaram and his son in irregularities related to the foreign direct investment approval granted to the broadcaster in return for illegal gratification paid in India and through offshore entities, the agency said.

The Mukerjeas are in jail in connection with the murder of Indrani’s daughter by a previous marriage.

CBI quoted Indrani Mukerjea as saying in a statement to the agency that $5 million had been paid to offshore entities/accounts, an allegation that is being probed, an officer at the agency said on condition of anonymity. Judicial requests seeking information on the payments have been sent to the authorities in Singapore, Mauritius, Bermuda, the UK and Switzerland, the agency said.

The anti-corruption agency, which arrested the Congress leader on August 21 this year (he is currently in the Enforcement Directorate’s custody), has claimed that INX Media received foreign investment worth ~403.07 crore in 2007 by issuing shares at a premium against the approved FDI of ~4.62 crore, which was supposed to be raised through stock issued at face value, only, according to a CBI officer.

CBI claims that INX Media illegally invested ~40.91 crore in its sister concern INX News Pvt Ltd from the FDI without informing the FIPB, which came under the department of economic affairs of the finance ministry.

This, it says, was done in violation of the Foreign Exchange Management Act.

“During investigation, it was found that Indrani Mukherjea and Peter Mukherjea, directors of INX Media, entered into a criminal conspiracy with the then finance minister P Chidambaram and his son Karti and then public servants of FIPB unit for getting the issue settled without any penal action against them,” said the CBI officer.

If Chidambaram had not connived with INX to give it a pecuniary advantage, it might have had to pay a penalty under FEMA up to three times the total amount involved, said the CBI officer.

The CBI and ED have alleged earlier that the irregularities committed in the INX Media case were noticed by the FIPB and the income tax department; The Mukerjeas then approached Chidambaram at his North Block office to get the matter “regularised”; the then finance minister, the Mukerjeas claimed, guided them to his son with the suggestion that they help his business. As part of the alleged quid pro quo, ASCPL and its associated companies raised four invoices for $700,000 (~3.10 crore) on INX Media and were paid the money, according to the allegations.