Updated: May 26, 2022 2:47:46 am
Over a week after the CBI booked former Union finance and home minister P Chidambaram’s son Karti in connection with a case of alleged corruption in providing visas to Chinese officials of a company, the Enforcement Directorate has booked him in a case of money laundering.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had last week conducted nationwide searches at various premises linked to P Chidambaram and his son Karti in connection with the case.
The FIR is based on allegations that Karti accepted a bribe of Rs 50 lakh from the Vedanta Group to facilitate visas for 300 Chinese nationals of a company working in collaboration with a Vedanta subsidiary for a power project in Punjab.
The CBI FIR has arraigned as accused Karti; his alleged associate S Bhaskararaman; M/s Talwandi Sabo Power Limited, Mansa (Punjab); Vikas Makharia, a Talwandi Sabo representative; and M/s Bell Tools Limited, Mumbai.
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Notably, the CBI case is based on a reference sent by the Enforcement Directorate to the CBI way back in 2018. The letter sent by the ED had claimed that during its probe against the Chidambarams in the INX Media case, it had stumbled upon evidence that a company, allegedly associated with Karti, was offered Rs 50 lakh by the Vedanta Group to facilitate visas for 300 Chinese nationals when Chidambaram was the home minister.
The Enforcement Directorate had said that the offer was made to Karti’s chartered accountant S Bhaskararaman in 2011 by the Vedanta Group. ED assertions were based on certain email communications it had retrieved from the hard disk of Bhaskararaman’s laptop.
The ED at that time drew the CBI’s attention to an earlier letter it wrote to the agency in June, 2018, regarding “digital evidence retrieved from a hard disk of Shri S Bhaskararaman, CA of Shri Karti P Chidambaram from the premises of Sh. Karti P Chidambaram, relating to a request for grant of 300 visas to Chinese Nationals by the Home Ministry.”
The note claimed that the agency has now recovered more emails which suggest that Rs 50 lakh were offered to Advantage Strategic Consulting Pvt Ltd (ASCPL) in August, 2011, for this job by Vedanta. The CBI has alleged that the ASCPL is “indirectly controlled by Karti”.
While the reference did not specify where and how this money was paid, if at all, it did say that the visas were eventually granted.
The ED reference had said, “…one Shri Vikas Makharia of Vedanta group offered a sum of Rs 50 lakh to ASCPL in return for grant of visas. This offer was made vide email dated 27.08.2011… Bhaskararaman. This was followed by another email dated 02.09.2011, where Sh Makharia thanked Shri S Bhaskararaman for grant of visas by the Ministry of Home Affairs to Talwandi Sabo Power Limited.”
The note had also attached with the reference copies of the emails that it mentions in the note and a copy of P Chidambaram’s statement that he gave to the agency on August 28.
Although not arraigned as accused, the CBI FIR has said that the bribes were paid after Bhaskararaman had a discussion with P Chidambaram about Vedanta’s requirements. It has also said that P 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 Sh. Karti P Chidambaram had taken financial favour from M/s Sterlite Optical Technologies Limited, Mumbai (a Vedanta Group Company), which had lent Rs. 1.5 Crore in November, 2003 to his company namely M/s Meltraack India Limited, Chennai and the interest thereupon was waived-off in August 2004 (when Sh. P Chidambaram sworn 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, M/s 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, 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 Sh. P Chidambaram, the then Home Minister, demanded an illegal gratification of Rs. 50 Lakhs 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.”
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