The CBI on Saturday conducted a search at the residence of Karti Chidambaram, son of former Finance and Home Minister P Chidambaram, in Chennai where it opened nine cupboards to recover some documents in connection with the “bribe for visa” case it is probing against Karti.
The case pertains to allegations that Karti, through a company associated with him, helped get employees of a Chinese company get visas over and above the quota allotted to them in lieu of some pecuniary gains. The Chinese company was collaborating on a project with the Vedanta group.
Sources said during the last searches conducted by the agency at the residence, the cupboards were sealed. “They have now been opened in the presence of Karti and his wife. We have recovered documents and digital devices,” a CBI official said.
Karti’s lawyer G Sarath Babu, however, disputed the CBI’s claims.
“When CBI searched the residence located at No.16, Pycrofts Garden Road, Nungambakkam, Chennai, on May 17, they found nothing. There was one cupboard in the residence that was locked and the owner was abroad. That cupboard was opened today (July 9) and there were only clothes. The CBI found nothing and seized nothing,” Babu said in a statement.
He accused the CBI of taking away the laptop of Karti’s daughter by force.
“However, the CBI has illegally seized a laptop and an iPad belonging to Karti’s daughter (who is a university student) that contains her academic work. We have strongly protested the action and will move the courts against the illegal seizure,” he said.
Karti has earlier been questioned by the CBI in the case. At that time, speaking to the media, Karti had called all the cases against him “bogus” and the current one “most bogus”. He denied allegations that he had facilitated visas for any Chinese national.
The CBI had on May 17 arrested alleged chartered accountant and close aide of Karti, S Bhaskararaman, in connection with the case.
The agency had earlier that month conducted nationwide searches at various premises linked to P Chidambaram and his son Karti in connection with the case.
The CBI case was registered on the basis of a reference sent by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in 2018. CBI, however, initiated a preliminary enquiry (PE) only in March this year and registered an FIR on May 14.
The CBI FIR has arraigned as accused Karti, Bhaskararaman, Talwandi Sabo Power Limited, Mansa, Vikas Makharia, a Talwandi Sabo representative and Bell Tools Limited, Mumbai.
Though not arraigned as accused, the CBI FIR has said that the bribes were paid after Bhaskararaman had a discussion with Chidambaram senior about Vedanta’s requirements. It has also said that Chidambaram was on Vedanta’s board and his son had taken financial favours from a Vedanta subsidiary.
“P Chidambaram had been on the board of Vedanta Group, whereas his son Karti had taken financial favour from Sterlite Optical Technologies Limited, Mumbai (a Vedanta Group Company), which had lent Rs 1.5 crore in November 2003 to his company Meltraack India Limited, Chennai, and the interest thereupon was waived in August 2004 (when P Chidambaram was sworn in as the finance minister, Govt of India),” the CBI FIR has said.
According to the CBI, Talwandi Sabo, a subsidiary of Vedanta group, was in the process of setting up a 1,980-MW thermal power plant at Mansa and the job to establish the plant was outsourced to a Chinese company, Shandong Electric Power Construction Corp (SEPCO) as EPC contractor.
However, as the project was running behind schedule, Talwandi Sabo tried to bring more Chinese professionals to their site at Mansa in order to avoid penal action for delay. For this, it needed project visas over and above the ceiling imposed by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), the CBI alleged in its FIR.
“It has been alleged that in pursuance of the same, the said representative of Mansa-based private company (Talwandi Sabo) submitted a letter to the MHA, seeking approval to re-use the project visas allotted to this company, which was approved within a month and permission was issued to the company,” a CBI statement said.
Claiming that the letter for visa approval submitted to the MHA was shared on email with Karti by a Vedanta representative, the CBI FIR said: “S Bhaskararaman, after discussion with P Chidambaram, the then Home Minister, demanded an illegal gratification of Rs 50 lakh for ensuring the above said approval.”
This bribe was eventually paid to Karti through a Mumbai-based company, the CBI has claimed.
Talwandi Sabo Power Project is a coal-based, super-critical thermal power plant located at Banawala village in Punjab’s Mansa district. The power plant is operated by the TSPL, a subsidiary of Vedanta.
Reacting to the searches, a TSPL spokesperson said: “The searches at our Punjab facility have been part of a larger CBI investigation. We are extending full cooperation to the authorities and facilitating the due process. We have no further comments.”