The CBI has been granted sanction by the government to prosecute four former officials of the Finance Ministry, including Sindhushree Khullar who went on to become CEO of Niti Aayog, in the INX Media case in which former Finance Minister P Chidambaram is already in judicial custody.
The sanction was granted a month after Khullar was confronted with Chidambaram who was then in CBI custody. A 1975-batch IAS officer from the Union Territory cadre, Khullar was Additional Secretary in the Finance Ministry when developments related to the INX Media allegedly took place, CBI sources claimed. She was Additional Secretary in the Department of Economic Affairs (DEA) between 2004 and 2008. In 2015, she was appointed Niti Aayog CEO.
Others to be prosecuted are Anup K Pujari, former Secretary of the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises; Prabodh Saxena, former Director in the Finance Ministry; and, Rabindra Prasad, former Under Secretary in the Department of Economic Affairs.
In his defence, Chidambaram had said all decisions of the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) were taken by the board and the Ministry officials concerned.
The CBI alleged irregularities in the grant of FIPB clearance to INX Media for bringing in foreign investment, and arrested Chidambaram on August 21. Both CBI and Enforcement Directorate claimed that on March 13, 2007, INX Media approached the FIPB for approval of FDI inflow of Rs 4.6 crore from three Mauritius companies and further downstream investment in INX News.
While the FIPB granted INX Media permission on May 30, 2007 to bring in FDI of Rs 4.62 crore, it rejected the proposal of downstream investment in subsidiary INX News, the probe agencies claimed. INX Media, according to CBI, flouted the conditional FIPB approval and brought in over Rs 305 crore FDI against the approved inflow of Rs 4.62 crore and made downstream investment of 26 per cent in INX News.
The CBI said that on May 26, 2008, when the FIPB sought clarification from INX Media after the Income Tax department began its probe, the media firm engaged Karti Chidambaram, promoter director of Chess Management Service (P) Ltd, to “amicably” resolve the issue by “influencing the public servants of the FIPB unit of Ministry of Finance by virtue of his relationship with the then Finance Minister, P Chidambaram”.