Under-fire CBI defends NDTV raids, says it 'respects freedom of press'
A day after the raids on NDTV promoters Prannoy and Radhika Roy, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), claimed it “respects the freedom of the press”, even as it sought cooperation in the probe.
The Enforcement Directorate too is contemplating a money laundering probe, according to sources in the agency.
Both enforcement agencies have seen renewed coordination in the past few months, as it was evident when the CBI registered a case against INX Media and Karti Chidambaram, which was soon followed by the ED starting an investigation under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.
NDTV is already facing an ED probe under the Foreign Exchange Management Act in an another alleged violation of forex laws, and an investigation under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.
Interestingly, there is a common thread which binds these investigations: NDTV came under the arc of the PMLA investigations for investments from a Maxis subsidiary. The agency had sent a letter rogatory to London, seeking the details of the investment.
The ED is probing former Union minister P Chidambaram for his role in the FIPB approval to Maxis, and his son Karti Chidambaram for an alleged quid pro quo in the deal.
The Chidambarams and NDTV firmly continue to deny any wrongdoing.
The CBI, which is facing heats for its Monday morning raids on the Roys, sought to come clean on allegations of 'witch-hunting' and attack on press freedom.
In a detailed statement, the agency said “searches have been carried out at the premises of the promoters and their offices based on search warrants issued by the competent court. The CBI has not conducted any search on the registered office of NDTV, media studio, news room or premises connected with media operations”, and that “CBI fully respects the freedom of the press and is committed to the free functioning of news operations.”
The CBI was called a 'caged parrot' by the BJP, and the NDTV case comes at a time when the agency is still battling allegations of acting at the behest of the Central government. To make matters worse, the agency is probing its own former director, Ranjit Sinha.
Editors' Guild's statement
The CBI's clarification comes after the strongly worded statement put out by the Editors' Guild, which expressed concern over the raids. “Entry of police and other agencies into media offices is a serious matter. NDTV, in various statements, has denied any wrongdoing and termed the raids as 'stepping up the concerted harassment' of the news channel and an attempt to 'undermine democracy and free speech' and 'silence the media',” the statement read.
“While the Editors' Guild maintains that no individual or institution is above the law, the Guild condemns any attempt to muzzle the media and calls upon the CBI to follow the due process of law and ensure there is no interference in the free functioning of news operations,” the apex body of editors demanded.
It's not about loan repayment
The CBI reacted to NDTV's allegations by claiming that a 2016 Supreme Court order gave it the legal backing to investigate the matter, even though at the heart of the case lies a loan from a private bank.
“It is clarified that the Honourable Supreme Court, in the case of Ramesh Gelli vs CBI of 2016, held that the provisions of Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, are applicable to the officials of private banks,” its statement read. The agency also tried to put a question mark on the claims made by the Roys – that they were being unfairly targeted even when the loan had been repaid.
The agency claimed that the case does not pertain to the default on the loan repayment. “The allegations under investigation are not regarding the default in loan repayment; but relate to the wrongful gain of Rs 48 crore to the promoters – Dr Prannoy Roy, Smt Radhika Roy, M/s RRPR Holdings Pvt Ltd and a corresponding wrongful loss to the ICICI Bank arising from their collusion and criminal conspiracy,” the CBI claimed.
It talked of a criminal conspiracy where the accused, including the Roys, violated section 19(2) of the Banking Regulation Act, RBI circular. “ICICI Bank took the entire shareholding of the promoters in NDTV (nearly 61 %) as collateral, and then accepted prepayment of the loan by reducing the interest rate from 19 % p.a. to nearly 9.5 % p.a. and, as a consequence thereof, causing a wrongful loss of Rs 48 crore to ICICI Bank and a corresponding wrongful gain to the promoters of NDTV – Dr Prannoy Roy, Smt Radhika Roy and M/s RRPR Holdings Pvt Ltd,” according to the agency.
The agency acted on a complaint by one Sanjay Dutt, a minority NDTV shareholder, who had earlier moved SEBI, RBI and ED against the channel.