While finding Nirav Modi has become the country's biggest preoccupation, another big name accused of money laundering was arrested by the CBI this morning: Karti Chidambaram, the son of former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram. The 46-year-old businessman was arrested at the Chennai airport on his return from the United Kingdom.
Last May, the Enforcement Directorate had lodged an Enforcement Case Information Report (ECIR) - a police FIR equivalent - against junior Chidambaram, INX Media and its directors, Peter and Indrani Mukerjea, along with a couple of others under the provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).
Based on the information provided by the ED, the CBI subsequently filed an FIR against the accused mentioned above, alleging irregularities in the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance granted to INX Media in 2007 for receiving overseas funds to the tune of Rs 305 crore when Chidambaram was the finance minister.
In March 2017, INX Media had approached the Chairman of FIPB seeking permission for issuing equity shares to three non-resident investors based in Mauritius though the foreign direct investment (FDI) route. This money, according to the FIR, was sought for creating and operating a number of television channels. The application to the FIPB also mentioned its intention to "make a downstream financial investment to the extent of 26 percent of the issued and outstanding equity share capital of INX News Private Limited".
A few months later, the FIPB board approved INX's proposal, specifically an FDI/NRI inflow of Rs 4.62 crore, but did not approve the proposed downstream investment. So the FIR primarily alleges that "INX Media deliberately and in violations of the conditions and approval" went ahead with the downstream investment and generated FDI exceeding Rs 305 crore in the company "by issuing shares to foreign investors at a premium of more than Rs 800 per share" between August 2007 and May 2008.
When the Income Tax department sought clarification on the above in February 2008, INX Media allegedly sought to wriggle out of the mess by offering kickbacks to Karti to leverage on his family name to scuttle the probe.
The CBI said that Karti had received funds to the tune of Rs 10 lakh in the case - during its searches at the homes and offices of junior Chidambaram, sleuths reportedly recovered vouchers for this amount issued in favour of Advantage Strategic Consulting (P) Limited, a firm "indirectly" owned by him. But some sections of the media are now reporting that there is new evidence that he had received a much fatter kickback.
The Chidambarams have predictably and vociferously denied all charges made against them, blaming it all on political vendetta. But compounding the family's misery is their involvement in the alleged irregularities in the grant of FIPB clearance to the Aircel-Maxis deal back in 2006, another case being investigated by the CBI.
With PTI inputs