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Karti Chidambaram appears before CBI in ‘bribe for visas’ case, says cases against him ‘bogus’, ‘most bogus’

Sources said Karti arrived at the CBI headquarters at 8 am and is currently being questioned on the role of a company allegedly associated with him in the grant of visas. The company is alleged to have received Rs 50 lakh from Vedanta Group to facilitate the visas.

Congress MP Karti Chidambaram (File)

Karti Chidambaram, Congress leader and the son of former Union finance and home minister P Chidambaram, Thursday appeared before the CBI for questioning in connection with a case of alleged corruption in the grant of visas to officials of a Chinese company.

Sources said Karti arrived at the CBI headquarters at 8 am and is currently being questioned on the role of a company allegedly associated with him in the grant of visas. The company is alleged to have received Rs 50 lakh from Vedanta Group to facilitate the visas.

Karti had been ordered by a special court to appear before the CBI within 16 hours of his arrival in India from abroad. While Karti had been summoned to appear before the CBI on Wednesday, he had sought more time.

Speaking to the media before his appearance on Thursday, Karti called all the cases against him as “bogus” and the current one as “most bogus”. He denied allegations that he had facilitated visas for any Chinese national.

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The CBI had on May 17 arrested alleged a chartered accountant and close aide of Karti, S Bhaskararaman, in connection with the fresh ‘bribe for visas’ case. The agency had last week conducted nationwide searches at various premises linked to P Chidambaram and his son Karti in connection with the case.

The CBI case was registered on the basis of a reference sent by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in 2018. The CBI, however, initiated a preliminary enquiry (PE) only in March this year and registered an FIR on May 14. The CBI FIR has arraigned as accused Karti, Bhaskararaman, Talwandi Sabo Power Limited, Mansa, Vikas Makharia, a Talwandi Sabo representative, and Bell Tools Limited, Mumbai.

Though 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 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 P Chidambaram was sworn in 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 (MHA), 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 P Chidambaram, the then Home Minister, demanded an illegal gratification of Rs 50 lakh 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.”

The case is based on a reference sent by ED to the CBI in 2018. The letter 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 Vedanta group to facilitate visas for 300 Chinese nationals when P Chidambaram was the Union home minister.

The ED had alleged that Vedanta Group had made the offer to Bhaskararaman in 2011. The agency’s assertions were based on email communications it had retrieved from the hard disk of Bhaskararaman’s laptop.

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