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Total recall: SC's 'daya' for Maran in telephone exchange case

Suhas Munshi | Updated on: 12 August 2015, 16:13 IST

The directive

  • Madras HC cancels Dayanidhi Maran\'s six-week-long anticipatory bail
  • Ex-minister not cooperating in telephone exchange case, CBI tells HC
  • Maran moves SC against the HC stand
  • SC stays Maran\'s arrest

The case

  • Maran allegedly ran illegal telephone exchanges at Delhi, Chennai residences
  • Said to have set up 770 data lines to speed up Sun TV network
  • Loss to exchequer from lines at one Chennai residence: Rs 1.78 crore - CBI estimate
  • Shares of Sun, run by Maran\'s brother Kalanidhi, down 7%

The list

  • Illegal telephone exchange case is not the only one against Maran
  • He was chargesheeted in the Aircel-Maxis deal last August
  • The ED has attached property worth Rs 742 crore, owned by Maran Bros, in a money laundering probe

Former telecom minister Dayanidhi Maran can breathe easy, now that the Supreme Court has saved him from being arrested by CBI in the 'telephone exchange case'.

Though there are two more cases against him, which may be far trickier.

The Madras High Court on Monday had cancelled Maran's six-week-long anticipatory bail in the 'telephone exchange case', asking him to surrender before the CBI within three days.

Maran had moved the Supreme Court against the decision on Tuesday, with senior advocate and Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi representing him. SC stayed Maran's arrest on Wednesday.

What is the charge against Maran?

The allegation against him dates back to January 2007, when Maran was the information and technology minister in the UPA-I Cabinet. Allegedly, he got 770 high-speed BSNL data lines installed at three of his residences in Chennai and Delhi, converting his residence into a 'virtual telephone exchange'.

The expensive ISDN lines were installed illegally in the name of BSNL's general manager, the CBI claimed.

Why did he do that?

The lines, capable of carrying huge volumes of data, were reportedly installed to speed up the transmission of Sun TV network, owned by Maran's brother Kalanithi.

What was the loss?

The total quantum of the alleged corruption is yet to be calculated. However, the CBI estimated a loss of over Rs 1.78 crore to the exchequer due to the use of several high-capacity lines at Maran's Boat Club House Road residence in Chennai. More such lines were found at his Gopalapuram residence in Chennai as well as in Delhi.

What does Maran have to say?

He insists there was only one ISDN line, not hundreds. Also, as a Cabinet minister, he was entitled to 1.5 lakh free calls.

Why was the anticipatory bail rejected?

The High Court granted the bail on June 30 on the condition that Maran would cooperate with the inquiry. But the CBI later moved the court claiming that he wasn't cooperating.

"I find prima facie the exact role he . played in misusing his office for wrongful gain," said Justice S Vaidyanathan, while cancelling the bail.

Referring to the "huge magnitude of the case," the judge said he agreed with the additional solicitor general's argument: as a large number of undertrials languish in jails, why should Maran "with serious allegations of corruption, cheating and causing wrongful loss to the exchequer," be allowed to roam free?

Why did Supreme Court overrule the Madras High Court?

Supreme Court grilled the CBI, asking them whether CBI's keenness to arrest Maran was part of a political vendetta.

"Why the CBI need to arrest a man for Rs.1 crore pending phone bill. When the FIR was filed in 2013, why didn't you make any arrest? What were you doing for nearly three years?" Justice TS Thakur asked CBI.

Justice Thakur cited the case of the NRHM scam in UP, "there is a loss of Rs. 800 crore public money. But not a single arrest. Here you want to arrest for 1 crore phone bill dues. Are you trying to get at him?"

The Supreme Court has stayed Maran's arrest till September 14.

What happens next?

The next hearing in the Supreme Court will be on September 14, till which time Maran has been granted relief from being arrested by CBI.

The court has already hinted its displeasure with the case, which it has hinted is not too strong and is possibly politically motivated. Justice TS Thakur has also hinted that it may let Maran go if he pays up the losses to the exchequer.

However if CBI is able to prove charges of criminal conspiracy and other serious offences it has charged Maran with, he may face an arrest. Though the chances of that happening are quite slim.

How has this affected Sun TV?

The HC decision on Monday caused the company's share prices to fall by 6.5% on Tuesday. However the share prices made some gains later on, and may improve further after the news of Apex Court's stay on his arrest.

Meanwhile the home ministry has denied security clearance to the channel, citing the illegal lines and calling them a national security threat.

The channel was backed by the information and broadcasting ministry, but the home ministry said the network's owners faced cases for various offences, including for money laundering.

What else is in store for Maran?

Even if Maran gets a breather in this case, there is more trouble in store: the Aircel Maxis case, an offshoot of the 2G spectrum issue, as well as a money-laundering case.

Maran was chargesheeted in the Aircel Maxis case by the CBI last August. It was alleged that, he along with T Ananda Krishnan, the owner of Malaysia-based Maxis, plotted and forced C Sivasankaran of Aircel to sell shares to Krishnan.

Based on the CBI probe, the Enforcement Directorate has been investigating into money laundering and has attached assets worth Rs 742 crore owned by the Maran brothers.

First published: 12 August 2015, 16:15 IST
Suhas Munshi @suhasmunshi

He hasn't been to journalism school, as evident by his refusal to end articles with 'ENDS' or 'EOM'. Principal correspondent at Catch, Suhas studied engineering and wrote code for a living before moving to writing mystery-shrouded-pall-of-gloom crime stories. On being accepted as an intern at Livemint in 2010, he etched PRESS onto his scooter. Some more bylines followed in Hindustan Times, Times of India and Mail Today.