Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman targets Congress after SC’s ruling on Devas
Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Tuesday accused the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government for perpetrating the Devas Multimedia scam, citing the Supreme Court’s verdict, and said that while the corporate affairs ministry has initiated the liquidation process of the controversial firm, law enforcement agencies will take action against those involved in the crime.
Extensively quoting the Monday judgement of the apex court that called the deal between the Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) commercial arm Antrix Corporation and Devas Multimedia “a product of fraud perpetrated by Devas”, Sitharaman said: “It is a fraud by Congress, of Congress [and] for Congress” and the Congress party is the “master of corruption”. ‘Digitally Enhanced Video and Audio Services’ is the expanded form of Devas.
Antrix on January 28, 2005 entered into an agreement with private firm Devas for providing multimedia services to mobile users and offered the S-band satellite spectrum, a property of national security, without intimating the Union Cabinet, according to Sitharaman. Although, after the six years of inaction, the Congress-led UPA government in 2011 cancelled the deal, it did not try to defend arbitration proceedings initiated by Devas and its shareholders against the cancellation, she said. Antrix is a wholly owned company of the central government under administrative control of the department of space, which is a portfolio held by the Prime Minister.
When asked about the next step of the government in this matter, Sitharaman said that the agencies such as the Central Bureau of investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) would act as per the law governing them and could attach some of the assets of entities involved that may include fix-deposits and other properties.
“I may not be able to give you the details, because today I’m looking at the company... [The] company getting liquidated ... which was a fraud in its first place... all that [have been] established. We are looking at that side today. But sooner, post this order of the Supreme Court, I will be holding a meeting with all those departments and also the law enforcement agencies to see how best we can proceed,” she said.
The Supreme Court on Monday cleared the decks for winding up of Devas Multimedia at the instance of ISRO’s commercial arm Antrix, as it affirmed the findings of the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) that Devas was set up for a “fraudulent and unlawful purpose” of “unjust enrichment”. Devas holds three arbitral awards to the tune of ₹15,000 crore against Antrix, a public sector firm, over the termination of deal in 2011. India has challenged these arbitral awards.
Commenting on the government’s action against the ongoing arbitration proceedings abroad, the finance minister said: “First of all, it is the Supreme Court of India whose order we are taking up and presenting before those arbitrations. Second, that is where I wish government of India [the then UPA government]... would have understood the gravity of the fraud that had taken place, and also gravity of cancellation and its fallout, and built-up the case [from 2011] in a tight manner, putting up the right arguments of national security and also the fraud that had been perpetrated...”
She said it was the Narendra Modi government who took legal recourse and taking all steps necessary to protect the national interest, which is reflected in the recent verdict of the Supreme Court.
Devas initiated three arbitrations against the termination of the deal. One at the International Chambers of Commerce (ICC) and two other arbitrations under the Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) – one initiated by Mauritius investors and the other Deutsche Telekom, a German firm. India lost all three. The first, related to commercial termination of contract, is of $1 billion. The one under Mauritius BIT is $111.29 million, plus cost and interest and the third under Germany BIT is $93.3 million, plus cost and interest, the finance minister said. India will take legal recourse against Devas shareholders’ move to attach Indian assets abroad to recover the award. They have got a French court order to freeze Indian assets in Paris and some assets of state-run Air India in Canada.
Rejecting the charge, Congress leader Pranav Jha said “Will request the minister to do a press conference and give a statement on the record unemployment, and rising poverty even as wealth of their Cronies increases multifold