Aircel Maxis deal: Karti Chidambaram in the dock for being major beneficiary
Karti Chidambaram, lawn tennis enthusiast, businessman turned politician and son of former Finance Minister P Chidambaram, is in more trouble. While he reportedly claims that his only link to the Aircel Maxis deal is an Aircel sim card which he has been using, the investigators claim that he was one of the major beneficiary of the deal.
The Enforcement Directorate (ED), which is probing the Aircel Maxis deal, recently asked him to appear at its Delhi office within ten days. Karti had earlier failed to appear on Tuseday, 5 July, citing prior engagements. The summons were issued after the agency traced a sum of USD 200,000 (approximately Rs 1.34 crore) which Maxis had transferred to Karti's company.
While officials say it is too early to say if he will be arrested, the agency is waiting for the CBI to act before it decides its further course of action. The CBI, which is also investigating the case, sources say, may act soon. The apex investigating agency is probing the Foreign Investment Promotion Board's (FIPB) approval to the Aircel Maxis deal during Chidambaram's tenure as the finance minister. The deal has been marred by allegations of kickbacks and that Chidambaram gave the approval against the FIPB rules.
BJP MP Subramanian Swamy had been attacking the CBI and the Finance Ministry for stalling the probe in the case. In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in February, Swamy suggested how the CBI seems to have developed cold feet, overawed by the support P Chidambaram has been able to mobilise.
ED sources say this is an important breakthrough and that they want Karti to come and explain the transaction. "He will find it hard to explain why did Maxis transfer this money to him," a source explains. "His companies do not even have the expertise to offer consultancy," the official says.
The source says that the transactions pertain to a period between 2007 and 2010. ED had found that Chess Management Services received more than $1 lakh from a Maxis group company Bumi Armada Berhad. Investigators say that Chess Management had also received another $60,000 (40.3 lakh rupees) from Maxis Mobile Sdn Bhd and around $35,000 (23.5 lakh rupees) from Astro All Asia Network.
Interestingly, Astro All Asia network is one of the companies which was chargesheeted by the ED, along with the Maran brothers - former Minister Dayanidhi Maran and Sun TV Chief Kalanithi Maran - for routing kickbacks in the Aircel Maxis deal. It is alleged that the DMK leader and former minister Maran had forced Sivasankaran, the Aircel Chief, to sell the mobile service provider to Malaysian Maxis.
More than one company
Meanwhile, Chess Management LLC is not the only Karti company under the scanner. Investigations into the workings of Advantange Strategic Consulting, another company which the investigators say is indirectly controlled by Karti, and is involved in the Aircel Maxis deal, had reportedly revealed huge assets that the company controls through its Singapore subsidiary. The investigators claim that the company has made investments in resorts, apartments and farms in as many as 13 countries including the British Virgin Island.
ED sources say that Ravi Vishwanathan, one of the directors in Advantage Strategic Consulting, had told the agency that it is Karti who actually controls the controversial company. Vishwanathan, who was questioned last year by the ED sleuths, is one of the three officials of the company who were asked to join the ongoing probe under the stringent Prevention of Money Laundering Act. The ED had also raided premises related to the Karti linked companies and found 'incriminating evidence'.
P Chidambaram has been rubbishing all allegations of corruption against him and his son as being driven out of vendetta.