Naming Congress leader and former Union Minister P Chidambaram, son Karti and 12 others including former bureaucrats of the Ministry of Finance in a chargesheet on alleged corruption in the INX Media case, the CBI Friday informed a Delhi court that Chidambaram, as Finance Minister, had “demanded illegal gratification… in the form of overseas payoffs for himself” and guarantees for “the business
interest of his son” in exchange for FIPB approval of INX Media’s FDI proposals.
The chargesheet was filed before the mandatory 60-day period — from the day of arrest of Chidambaram in the alleged corruption case — runs out on October 20. It refers to a meeting at Chidambaram’s North Block office where, according to the CBI, this demand for “payoffs” was made in the presence of journalist Vir Sanghvi.
Reached for comment, Sanghvi said: “I told the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate that during that period, we met several people in Delhi to tell them about the venture. I do not exactly remember who all of them were and have no specific recollection of this meeting. In any case, Peter Mukerjea knew Mr Chidambaram from his Star TV days… This is all in my evidence as are my two meetings with Mr Chidambaram after I had left INX a few months later when I urged him to investigate irregularities in INX’s finances. The FIPB clearance was for INX Media, an entertainment company. I worked for INX News, a separate company.”
The CBI, in its chargesheet, said: “Smt Indrani Mukerjea, the then Director M/s INX Media (P) Limited and Sh Pratim Mukerjea, her husband as the then Chief Operating Officer, M/s INX Media (P) Limited along with Sh Vir Sanghvi had met Sh P Chidambaram, the then Finance Minister in his office at North Block, New Delhi, regarding the FIPB approval. In the said meeting Shri P Chidambaram demanded illegal gratification from Smt Indrani Mukerjea and Sh Pratim Mukerjea in the form of overseas payoffs for himself and he also demanded that business interest of his son Sh Karti P Chidambaram should also be taken care in lieu of FIPB approval of M/s INX Media (P) Ltd and M/s INX News (P) Ltd.”
It refers to another meeting at the Hyatt Regency coffee shop in New Delhi between the Mukerjeas and Karti in June 2008 after the Income Tax raised questions about the FDI proposal. Seeking clarifications, the I-T asked: “Whether M/s INX Media (P) Limited, which had an approval for FDI of Rs 4.62 crores only, could receive excess investment to the tune of Rs. 262 crores (as on May 2008)” and “Whether M/s INX Media (P) Limited could also make a downstream investment in M/s INX News (P) Limited without the FIPB approval.”
“During the meeting at the coffee shop at Hotel Hayat Regency, New Delhi, Sh Karti P Chidambaram assured Smt Indrani Mukerjea and Sh Pratim Mukerjea that the contentious issues of M/s INX Media (P) Limited would be resolved. It is corroborated by the fact, revealed during investigation, that no punitive action was taken against the company by FIPB for the above violation by the company and for this a demand of US $1 Million was made by Sh Karti P Chidambaram. Of this amount, Rs 9,96,000 was paid through cheque by M/s INX Media Pvt Ltd as advance, subsequently, in the garb of false invoice showing consultancy favouring M/s Advantage Strategic Consulting Pvt Ltd – an indirectly controlled company of Sh Karti P Chidambaram.”
Indrani Mukerjea, who has been pardoned after turning approver in the case, has not been chargesheeted though her husband Pratim ‘Peter’ Mukerjea figures in it. Others named in the chargesheet are S Bhaskararaman, an associate of Karti; Sindhushree Khullar, the then Additional Secretary, Department of Economic Affairs(DEA); INX Media Pvt Ltd, presently 9X Media Pvt Ltd; INX News Pvt Ltd, presently Direct News; Chess Management Services Pvt Ltd; Advantage Strategic Consulting Pvt Ltd (ASCPL); Ajeet Kumar Dung Dung, the then section officer of FIPB unit (MoF); Rabindra Prasad, the then under secretary of FIPB unit; Pradeep Kumar Bagga, the then OSD (CM&I), FIPB unit; Prabodh Saxena, Director of FIPB Unit; and, Anup K Pujari, the then Joint Secretary (Foreign Trade) in the DEA.
In May 2017, the CBI had registered an FIR alleging irregularities in the FIPB clearance granted to the INX Media group for receiving overseas funds of Rs 305 crore in 2007 when Chidambaram was Finance Minister. The ED later lodged a money laundering case in the matter. Chidambaram denied any wrongdoing, and rejected the charges levelled at him by the two agencies.
Arrested on August 21 by the CBI which is probing alleged corruption in the case, Chidambaram has been in judicial custody since September 5.
On Friday, the Supreme Court reserved its order on Chidambaram’s bail plea with the CBI opposing it, claiming it was at a crucial stage of investigating more cases of FIPB approvals to companies and their alleged financial transactions with his son Karti, and that granting bail at at this stage would hamper probe as his very presence would intimidate witnesses.
Appearing for the agency, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told a bench headed by Justice R Banumathi that the FIPB approval granted to INX Media was not only the issue under investigation though this was the only one mentioned in the FIR.
He said that one of the witnesses in the case had given a statement under Section 164 CrPC about attempts to influence him and that the CBI had not revealed his name in the chargesheet.
Mehta too referred to the meeting at Chidambaram’s office, saying investigations had revealed that the Mukerjeas, along with a third person, had met him in his office on March 9, 2007, but the visitor’s register was stated to be destroyed because of lapse of time.
“However, contemporaneous evidence collected from Hotel Oberoi corroborates the statements of Indrani Mukerjea, that she and Peter Mukerjea were staying in Hotel Oberoi, New Delhi between 6.3.2007 and 9.3.2007 and they having used the hotel vehicle for internal travel on 9.3.2007, which was used for travelling to the petitioner’s office where the meeting was held,” he said.