THE CBI’S move to summon from the US two founders of Bengaluru-based space start-up Devas Multimedia Ltd to stand trial with six others, including former ISRO chairman G Madhavan Nair, in a corruption case over a 2005 deal with ISRO’s commercial arm Antrix Corporation, has hit a hurdle.
Reason: US authorities are said to have conveyed that the original summons can’t be found.
In a letter dated March 14 to the CBI, the Indian Embassy in the US has stated that the Department of Justice had not been able to serve the summons issued by a Delhi court for Devas CEO Ramachandran Viswanathan and director M G Chandrashekar, a former ISRO employee, since the original summons has been reported as “not traceable” by US authorities.
The loss of the original summons issued through diplomatic channels was brought to the notice of a Delhi court Monday by the CBI while seeking the issuance of fresh summons against the two. Based on the CBI’s request, fresh summons have been issued and a decision taken to bifurcate the case against the two in order to begin the trial of the remaining six accused who are in India.
The CBI filed the corruption case over the 2005 Devas Multimedia-Antrix Corporation deal — for ISRO to launch two satellites for Devas — in March 2015. The CBI filed a chargesheet in the case 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 the eight persons chargesheeted by the CBI in the case is Madhavan Nair, who joined the BJP in October 2018, a former ISRO secretary A Bhaskarnarayana and the former executive director of the Antrix Corporation K R Sreedharamurthi. The accused have denied the charges — Devas was started by a group of former ISRO and World Space employees in 2004.
The CBI has accused the former ISRO officials and the Devas management of causing a loss of approximately Rs 578 crore to the government through the 2005 deal. A CBI court in Delhi took cognizance of the case in September 2017 and issued summons to all the accused.
In January, the CBI also filed a supplementary chargesheet accusing Nair and two other ISRO officials of suppressing information regarding the allocation of S band spectrum to Devas Multimedia — through the 2005 deal — from other government agencies, including the telecom and defence departments.
Under the 2005 deal, ISRO was to lease two communication satellites for 12 years at a cost of Rs 167 crore to Devas Multimedia. The start-up firm was to provide multimedia services to mobile platforms in India using the space band or S-band spectrum transponders on ISRO’s GSAT 6 and 6A satellites built at a cost of Rs 766 crore by ISRO.
The deal was annulled by the UPA government in February 2011 — in the backdrop of the 2G scam — citing usage of the S-band spectrum for security purposes. After the NDA government came to power in 2014, the CBI and ED were asked to investigate the deal.
In August 2018, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) filed a chargesheet under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act against Sreedharamurthi, Viswanathan and Chandrashekar, and Devas CTOs Desaraju Venugopal, Nataraj Dakshinamurthy and finance director Ranganathan Mohan, along with four subsidiaries of Devas in Bengaluru and the US.
The ED stated that Devas Multimedia allegedly transferred 85 per cent of the Rs 579 crore foreign funding it received on the back of the 2005 ISRO deal to the US under various claims. Devas Multimedia attracted several foreign investors, including Columbia Capital and Deutsche Telekom Asia Pte Ltd, on the back of its satellite deals for S Band services with ISRO’s Antrix.
Devas Multimedia has challenged the UPA government’s decision to cancel the deal in various international courts and has won favourable decisions.
In September 2015, an International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) arbitration tribunal directed Antrix Corporation to pay Devas $ 563 million in compensation for the cancellation of the 2005 deal. Devas has moved a US court for confirmation of the ICC compensation order.