Former finance minister P Chidambaram
The CBI is likely to file a chargesheet in the INX media foreign investment clearance case as it has received sanction from the Centre to prosecute former finance minister P Chidambaram, under whose tenure approval for it was given, officials said on Friday. They said after clearance from the Centre, giving a go-ahead to the agency to press charges against Chidambaram, the CBI might soon proceed with the filing of the chargesheet.
The CBI had registered an FIR on May 15, 2017 against alleged irregularities in the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance to INX Media for receiving overseas funds to the tune of Rs 305 crore in 2007, when Chidambaram was the finance minister. The Law Ministry had told the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) that there was "no legal infirmity" in the agency's request seeking prosecution sanction. This view has now been communicated to the CBI, they said.
Chidambaram was not listed as an accused in the FIR registered by the agency. The Prevention of Corruption Act mandates an investigating agency to get prior sanction from competent authority for prosecution of an accused public servant. The agency had registered the FIR against Karti Chidamabaram, his company Chess Management Services, Peter Mukerjea and Indrani Mukerjea, INX Media, Advantage Strategic Consulting Services and its Director Padma Vishwanathan. Both the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate are investigating the foreign investment clearance granted to the Aircel-Maxis deal in 2006 and the INX Media in 2007.
The government has already given sanction to prosecute Chidambaram in the Aircel-Maxis case. Chidambaram had denied allegations of any wrongdoing in clearing the foreign investment proposals of these companies. According to the CBI, INX Media stated in its records that Rs 10 lakh was given to Advantage Strategic Consulting (P) Limited, a firm "indirectly" owned by Karti, for management consultancy charged towards FIPB notification and clarification.
The FIR also alleges that invoices of approximately Rs 3.5 crore were raised in favour of the INX group in the name of other companies in which Karti had substantial interests "directly or indirectly". The allegations levelled by the CBI are based on the information given by "source", the FIR has claimed. INX Media was seeking investment from Mauritius, an official had explained.
The investment was allowed by the FIPB board and the finance minister with the condition that only Rs 4.62 crore could be received, he had said after registration of the FIR. For investment in INX News Pvt Ltd a separate proposal was required, he had said. The company allegedly violated the conditions set by the FIPB and received investment to the tune of 26 per cent in the capital of INX News which included foreign investment.
It allegedly generated more than Rs 305 crore of FDI in INX Media against the approved inflow of Rs 4.62 crore by issuing shares to foreign investors at a premium of more than Rs 800 per share, the FIR had said. The violation prompted an Income Tax Department probe. INX Media claimed that the investment was done as per FIPB conditions, it had said. In order to wriggle out of the situation without any punitive action, INX Media entered into a criminal conspiracy with Karti whose father was the finance minister of the country, the agency has alleged.
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 favours by abusing their official position and advised the company to file for a fresh clearance, the FIR had claimed. Chidambaram had issued a strong rebuttal to the allegations after the FIR was filed and searches were carried out on May 16, 2017. He had said the government was using the CBI and other agencies to target his son. FIPB approval was granted in "hundreds of cases", the senior Congress leader had said.
(With PTI inputs)