The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), in its charge sheet in the INX Media case filed on Friday, has said two meetings of Indrani Mukerjea and Pratim (Peter) Mukerjea -- the first with former finance minister P Chidambaram in his office at North Block sometime in April/May 2007, and the second with the minister’s son Karti Chidambaram at Hyatt hotel in June 2008 -- are at the centre of bribery allegations against the father and son.
Around the time, the Mukerjeas were looking for foreign investment for their media company in 2007; they, along with senior journalist Vir Sanghvi (the editor of their venture) met P Chidambaram at his office in North Block seeking FIPB approval. That the meeting happened, CBI says in the charge sheet reviewed by HT, is corroborated by records of the Mukerjeas’ stay at Hotel Oberoi in Delhi for the relevant period and their taxi bill for travel. In the finance minister’s own official visitors’ log, CBI adds, the meeting “ has been weeded out”.
Sanghvi, who has not been named as an accused and is a witness in the case, told HT, “I have given evidence to CBI. It has asked me not to talk about the meeting.”
A Delhi court on Monday took cognisance of the CBI charge sheet, which lists the entire sequence of events, and summoned Chidambaram on October 24. The court also summoned all the other accused, including Chidambaram’s son Karti and bureaucrats in the finance department, on November 29.
Chidambaram’s lawyer and Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi said: “A charge sheet by definition is the prosecution’s proposal to prosecute. It is neither an interim nor a final judicial finding. None of these wild allegations have been proved remotely. What is important is, firstly, that the charge sheet doesn’t even make a charge or not even an allegation of tampering with evidence or witnesses. Hence, the prosecution has falsely made this accusation to deny him bail. The charge sheet usually signifies completion of investigation. On that ground too, he should get bail.”
CBI states that in his meeting with Mukerjeas, the senior Congress leader asked them to pay “illegal gratification in the form of overseas pay-offs... [and] demanded that business interest(s) of his son should be taken care of”. INX’s proposal for ~4.62 crore foreign direct investments (FDI) was cleared on May 18, 2007, by P Chidambaram. Following this, INX received ~403.07 crore, about 90 times the approved amount from three foreign investors by selling shares at the rate of ~862.15 each instead of the originally proposed price of ~10 per equity. “FIPB approval for receipt of excess FDI was neither applied for by INX Media not asked for by the concerned public servants,” CBI said in the charge sheet..
The company also allegedly transferred ~40.91 crore illegally as downstream investment from INX Media to INX News Pvt Ltd between 2007 and 2008. The downstream investment proposal, which was submitted by INX after receiving the money, was approved by P Chidambaram on October 20, 2008.
Several complaints about these investments were made by several former MPs, including Avinash Rai Khanna and Murli Manohar Joshi, the charge sheet goes on to add. The then information and broadcasting minister in the UPA government, Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi, too had forwarded a complaint to department of revenue about irregularities by INX and Chidambaram himself was aware of those complaints, it says. Vir Sanghvi, too, brought the matter of irregularities in INX News to the notice of P Chidambaram in February 2008, CBI says. “On two occasions, I told Chidambaram about the irregularities asking him to take action but nothing was done. My meetings with him are a matter of public knowledge,” Sanghvi said.
Subsequently, the Income Tax Department, between March and May 2008, sought clarifications on the excess investment. At this point, Peter Mukerjea again approached P Chidambaram seeking relief. CBI, however, doesn’t explain here how Peter Mukerjea approached P Chidambaram again. On P Chidambaram’s instructions, Peter and Indrani then met Karti Chidambaram at the coffee shop of Hyatt Regency. In this meeting, CBI states, Karti “assured them that the contentious issues of INX would be resolved”. Following this meeting, ~9,96,000 was paid through cheque by INX Media to Advantage Strategic Consultancy Pvt Ltd (ASCPL), a company controlled by Karti Chidambaram, CBI adds. It also alleges that ASCPL was directly connected to Karti’s other firm Chess Management Services Pvt Ltd. Karti Chidambaram could not be reached for comment.
CBI alleges that the finance ministry officials, including then additional secretary Sindhushree Khullar, ex-director Prabodh Saxena, then joint secretary Anup K Pujari, under-secretary Rabindra Prasad, OSD Pradeep Kumar Bagga and section officer Ajeet Kumar Dung Dung, “prevented punitive actions against INX” arising out of excess FDI. Khullar, CBI says “buried both the issues (of FDI and downstream investment) on which the action was sought by department of revenue”. “She (Khullar) also didn’t bring these developments to the notice of FIPB Board in its meeting on October 24, 2008,” CBI alleges in the charge sheet.
Khullar did not respond to HT’s text messages and call. Other government officials could not immediately be reached for comment.