Stating that the “entire case” on the Aircel-Maxis deal was based on “misreading of official files”, a special court in New Delhi gave a clean chit Thursday to former telecom minister Dayanidhi Maran, his brother Kalanithi Maran and two firms, discharging them of charges of corruption and money laundering in cases probed by the CBI and Enforcement Directorate.
A senior ED official said the agency will challenge the discharge order. Officials of the CBI offered no immediate comment, saying they were yet to receive the detailed order.
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Discharging the Maran brothers, Special Judge O P Saini said “legally admissible evidence” was “wholly lacking” in the probe that was conducted. The CBI had alleged that the Marans received a bribe of Rs 742 crore for “coercing” C Sivasankaran to sell his telecom company Aircel to Malaysia-based Maxis.
The entire case, the judge said, was based on “contradictory statements of the witnesses”. The court also gave a clean chit to Sun Direct TV (P) Ltd and South Asia Entertainment Holdings Limited, Mauritius.
In addition to the Maran brothers, the CBI had named Kuala Lumpur-based business tycoon T Ananda Krishnan, and Maxis director Ralph Marshall in its chargesheet for offences punishable under Section 120-B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code and under relevant provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act. The matter related to Krishnan and Marshall is being heard separately — they are yet to appear before the court in the case.
Discharging the Marans from the charge of criminal conspiracy, Saini said: “…in the eyes of law, these grounds themselves are not enough to connect the money received in the company of Kalanithi Maran to Dayanidhi Maran. The three simple and ordinary facts that they are real brothers or that both are shareholders in some companies or that Dayanidhi Maran got a letter addressed to his brother Sh. Kalanithi Maran collected through his stenographer are by themselves not indicative of any conspiracy between the two.”
“They may indicate their close association but nothing beyond that. These may create a perception or a suspicion that the money received in the company of Kalanithi Maran was meant for… Dayanidhi Maran, but perception or suspicion are not enough for criminal prosecution. The perception or suspicion is required to be investigated and supported by legally admissible evidence, which is wholly lacking in this case,” the court said.
The discharge order came on two separate cases. The CBI had alleged that Dayanidhi entered into a criminal conspiracy with Krishnan, owner of Maxis, and “coerced” Sivasankaran, owner of Aircel, to sell his shares to the former, allegedly in lieu of investments by the foreign company through another company into Sun Direct TV Pvt Ltd. Dayanidhi, the CBI said, was one of the promoters of Sun Direct.
In the money laundering case probed by the ED, it was alleged that Rs 742.58 crore was paid for Dayanidhi by two Mauritius-based companies through Sun Direct TV Pvt Ltd and South Asia FM Ltd, both companies owned and controlled by Kalanithi.
The case of the CBI was that Marshall, Kalanithi and Dayanidhi put pressure on Sivasankaran to sell the companies “though he was resisting it and wanted to retain at least 26% of the shareholding”. It was further alleged that on account of the delay in regulatory approvals concerning nine issues of Aircel, the business environment of Siva group of companies became very constricted and this led to the sale of Aircel Ltd to Maxis.
On this, Saini said, “Sivasankaran alleges that it was strangulation of Dayanidhi Maran which led him to sell 100% of his business. The record in detail does not support this view. It were his own mistakes and deficiencies which led to the situation, which he complains about… I have no hesitation in recording that his statement is based on speculations, surmises and conjectures and is totally contrary to the record.”
He said Dayanidhi “had no role as far as alleged delay relating to grant “ of licences for Punjab, Haryana, Kerala and Kolkata service area. “…it remained pending due to issues relating to impending FDI policy”.
“The issue relating to delay… is of no consequence as there is no legally admissible evidence connecting… Dayanidhi Maran with this issue. There is no evidence to show that these three issues ever reached the Minister or the Minister was in any way connected with these,” Saini said.
Sivasankaran, in his statement, had claimed he was forced to terminate the deal with Aircel Digilink India Limited as the approval for sale “was not forthcoming and it was due to the conspiratorial acts of Dayanidhi Maran”. But the court noted that “facts are contrary to this”.
“The officials of DoT had recommended rejection of sale proposal, but Dayanidhi Maran sat on the proposal and did not reject it,” the court said. “As such, there is no material on the file to indicate that the business environment of Siva group was ever constricted or choked by the actions of Dayanidhi Maran. It is a wholly unfounded allegation,” the court said.
“I am satisfied that there were no issues which were the making of the two accused which constricted the business environment for Sivasankaran, resulting in the sale of company to Maxis. Furthermore, feeling constricted is highly elastic and subjective feeling. It is difficult to believe as to when one would feel constricted enough in a particular situation compelling him to take a certain course of action,” Saini said.