The Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Tuesday questioned Karti Chidambaram in connection with the Aircel-Maxis deal case. This is the first time the son of former finance minister P Chidambaram has appeared before the agency for questioning.
Karti had been summoned by the CBI and ED multiple times for questioning in the case, but he declined to appear on the ground that all the accused in the case had been discharged and so the agencies could not question him. The Supreme Court, however, recently asked the CBI and ED to complete their probe in the next six months.
Sources said that Karti arrived at the agency headquarters in Lok Nayak Bhawan at Khan Market in the morning and was questioned through the day. He was questioned on his association with Advantage Strategic Consulting Pvt Ltd (ASCPL), a company which CBI has alleged is “indirectly controlled” by Karti, and its dealings in connection with the Aircel-Maxis deal. ASCPL was paid Rs 26 lakh as consultancy fee after FIPB approval was granted for the deal.
According to the ED, the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) approval in the Aircel-Maxis FDI case was granted in March 2006 by then finance minister P Chidambaram even though he was competent to accord approval on project proposals only up to Rs 600 crore, and bigger projects required the approval of the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA).
“In the instant case, approval for FDI of $800 million (over Rs 3,500 crore) was sought. Hence, CCEA was competent to grant approval. However, approval was not obtained from CCEA,” it has alleged.
The agency has said its probe revealed that the case of the said FDI was “wrongly projected as an investment of Rs 180 crore so that it need not be sent to the CCEA to avoid a detailed scrutiny”.
Following earlier searches by the ED, both P Chidambaram and Karti had alleged “political vendetta”. The ED is probing the case under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act after taking cognizance of a 2011 CBI FIR in the case.
The agency last year attached assets worth Rs 1.16 crore belonging to Karti in connection with its probe. The attachment was confirmed by the adjudicating authority recently.
P Chidambaram earlier called the ED allegations a “crazy mixture of falsehoods and conjectures”. He said the insinuations were “intended to intimidate me and to silence my voice. I will not be intimidated”.
After Karti’s refusal to appear before it on earlier occasions, the CBI had argued that the FIR in connection with the case still stands and investigations are still on, so it had every right to call Karti for questioning.