Efforts by the CBI and ED to bring to trial two top officials of start-up Devas Multimedia, following the filing of chargesheets for corruption and money laundering offences in a 2005 deal with ISRO’s commercial arm Antrix Corporation, has not yielded results and the officials remain untraced despite court summons.
The CBI reported to a special court in Delhi in March that efforts to trace US-based Ramachandran Vishwanathan, CEO of Devas Multimedia Pvt Ltd, and M G Chandrashekhar, former ISRO employee and director in the firm, hit a dead end after Indian authorities in the US reported that the original summons were not traceable.
In Bengaluru, where ED is prosecuting Devas officials and a former Antrix official under Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), police officers have reported to a special court that the two were not traceable at their office and residence addresses in the city.
While the CBI court in Delhi ordered a separate trial on March 18 against the two officials, the special court in Bengaluru granted 12 weeks’ time on April 12 to serve summons at their US addresses.
Under the 2005 deal, ISRO entered a contract to lease two communication satellites for 12 years at Rs 167 crore to Devas Multimedia. The start-up was to provide video-audio services to mobile platforms in India using the space band or S-band spectrum transponders on ISRO’s GSAT 6 and 6A satellites. The agreement was annulled by the then UPA government in 2011 following allegations that it was a “sweetheart deal” in the backdrop of 2G scam. The government annulled the deal, citing demand for the S-band spectrum by the defence sector. After NDA came to power, CBI and ED were asked to probe the deal.
The CBI registered a case in 2015 and filed a chargesheet on August 11, 2016 against eight officials from Devas, ISRO and Antrix for “being party to a criminal conspiracy with an intent to cause undue gain to themselves or others by abusing official positions’’.
Among those chargesheeted were former ISRO chairman G Madhavan Nair who joined BJP in 2018, former ISRO secretary A Bhaskarnarayana and former executive director of Antrix K R Sreedharamurthi. The CBI has accused the former ISRO officials and Devas management of causing a loss of nearly Rs 578 crore to the government. A CBI court in Delhi took cognizance in September 2017 and issued summons to the accused.
In August 2018, the ED filed a chargesheet under PMLA against Viswanathan and Chandrashekar, former Antrix M D Sridharamurthi, Devas CTOs Desaraju Venugopal, Nataraj Dakshinamurthy, finance director Ranganathan Mohan, and four Devas subsidiaries in Bengaluru and the US.
The ED has stated that Devas transferred 85 per cent of the Rs 579 crore foreign funding it received on the back of the 2005 deal with ISRO to the US under various claims. “The main purpose of entering the agreement with ISRO/ ACL was to raise foreign investments on the strength of the agreement with ISRO and thereafter siphon off the investment raised out of India in the guise of investment in subsidiary company, business support services and legal fee,’’ the ED said in a statement.
The Indian embassy in the US, in a letter to CBI dated March 14, stated that the US Department of Justice had not been able to serve summons to Viswanathan and Chandrashekar since the original summons is reported as “not traceable”. In April this year, police authorities in Bengaluru informed a special court hearing the ED case that efforts to trace Vishwanathan and Chandrashekhar had proved futile. The court is to take up the matter again later this month.