Former Union minister P Chidambaram was on Tuesday questioned in the Aircel-Maxis case for the first time by the Enforcement Directorate, a department which was under him during his tenure in the finance ministry.
The senior Congress leader, who was considered one of the most powerful ministers in the previous United Progressive Alliance government, was questioned by the probe agency for over six hours.
The agency recorded his statement under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act with some specific queries on the circumstances and procedures adopted by the now-defunct Foreign Investment Promotion Board while giving approval to the Aircel-Maxis deal during his tenure.
Chidambaram’s son Karti has already been questioned by the ED twice in this case.
Soon after leaving the ED office, Chidambaram tweeted to say that all the answers he gave to the probe agency were already recorded in government documents.
He also said that there is no FIR, yet a probe had been initiated.
“More than half the time taken up by typing the answers without errors, reading the statement and signing it, he said in his tweet.
Chidambaram arrived at the agency’s headquarters annexe office around 10:58 am accompanied by a lawyer, even as a strong contingent of police and Central Reserve Police Force personnel set up a security cordon at the office.
He was allowed by the agency to go out for lunch around 1:30 pm after over two hours of questioning, officials said.
The next round of questioning began about 3:30 pm which ended around 7 pm, they said.
It is expected that the agency may call him again.
The ED had issued a fresh summons to him on Monday to appear before the investigating officer of the case.
Chidambaram, also a former home minister, had last week approached the court of special judge O P Saini seeking relief from arrest by the ED in the case.
The same court on Tuesday directed the ED not to take any coercive action or arrest him till July 10 in connection with the case.
The ED had first asked him to appear before it on May 30 and on the same day, Chidambaram knocked the court’s door.
The court, in its order on May 30, had noted that Chidambaram has undertaken to comply with the summons issued by the ED, while saying he apprehended his arrest by the agency.
The Aircel-Maxis cases pertains to grant of Foreign Investment Promotion Board clearance to firm M/S Global Communication Holding Services Ltd in 2006 for investment in Aircel.
The Supreme Court had on March 12 directed investigating agencies -- the CBI and the ED -- to complete their probe into the 2G spectrum allocation cases, including the Aircel Maxis alleged money laundering case, in six months.
The agency had said that the FIPB approval in the Aircel-Maxis FDI case was granted in March 2006 by Chidambaram even though he was competent to accord approval on project proposals only up to Rs 600 crore and beyond that it required the approval of the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs.
The ED is investigating “the circumstances of the FIPB approval granted (in 2006) by the then finance minister.”
“In the instant case, the approval for FDI of $800 million (over Rs 3,500 crore) was sought. Hence, the CCEA was competent to grant the approval.
“However, the approval was not obtained from the CCEA,” the ED had alleged.
The agency 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”.
The ED is probing the Aircel-Maxis deal under the PMLA after taking cognisance of a 2011 CBI FIR in the case.
The senior Chidambaram had earlier described the ED action in this case as a “crazy mixture of falsehoods and conjectures” and said that the charge sheet filed by probe agencies had been rejected by the court.
However, the agencies have maintained that the FIR in the case has not been quashed.
In September last year, the ED had attached assets worth Rs 1.16 crore of Karti and a firm allegedly linked to him in connection with this case.