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Antrix-Devas deal: Ex-ISRO chief Madhavan Nair booked by CBI

Source: PTI
Last updated on: August 11, 2016 21:49 IST
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The Central Bureau of Investigation on Thursday filed a charge sheet in the Antrix-Devas deal case naming ex-ISRO chairman G Madhavan Nair and other senior officials who have been accused of facilitating "wrongful" gain of Rs 578 crore to private multi-media company Devas by Antrix, the commercial arm of ISRO.

Besides Nair, others named in the charge sheet include the then Executive Director of Antrix K R Sridhar Murthy, former Managing Director of Forge Advisors and CEO of Devas Ramachandra Vishwanathan and the then Director of Devas M G Chandrasekhar.

The charge sheet filed at the designated court in New Delhi also named former Additional Secretary in the Department of Space Veena S Rao, the then Director in ISRO A Bhaskar Narayana Rao and two directors of Devas Multi media D Venugopal and M Umesh.

The CBI accused them of having committed offences under various sections of the Indian Penal Code pertaining to cheating and certain provisions of Prevention of Corruption Act for allegedly being party to a criminal conspiracy with an intent to cause undue gain to themselves or others by abusing their official positions.

It has been alleged that the government officials abused their position to favour Devas by giving them rights for delivery of videos, multimedia content and information services to mobile phones using S-Band through GSAT-6 and GSAT-6A satellites and terrestrial systems in India.

The accused officials "thus caused wrongful gain of Rs 578 crore" to the private firm and its owners, CBI alleged.

The agency said a deal between Antrix and Devas was fixed in principle in January 2005 for lease of S-Band transponders. However, the then Executive Director of Antrix signed it on six months later only after ensuring that Chandrashekhar and Vishwanathan became majority stakeholders in Devas. They continued in that position till 2009.

The change in the board, where a US company represented by Chandrashekhar and Vishwanathan had majority stakes, was never verified by Antrix as the agreement had been in violation of Shankara Committee recommendations which said execution of any such agreement should be entered into with an Indian company alone, it was contended.

Money had been transferred to the US company from the accounts of a Bangalore-based private company, the CBI alleged.

Further investigation is continuing regarding issues of demand of S-Band frequency by other users including Ministry of Defence for strategic purpose and Department of Telecom, the CBI said.

Nair had been questioned by the CBI in May this year during which he was asked about the details of the contract signed between Antrix Corporation and Devas Multimedia Private Limited on January 28, 2005. He was the chairman of ISRO and Secretary, Department of Space.

The charge sheet comes a month after India lost its arbitration case in an international tribunal over Antrix scrapping a deal with Devas and is liable to pay compensation which could run into millions of dollars. 

The Hague-based permanent court of arbitration ruled that the Indian government had acted "unfairly" and "inequitably" in nullifying the contract. 

The Antrix-Devas deal had seen early exit of Nair as ISRO boss as he was the chairman of the governing council of Antrix when the deal was finalised.

The CBI has alleged that when a proposal seeking budgetary support of Rs 269 crore for approving design, manufacture and launch of GSAT-6/INSAT-4E (PS1) was placed at the 104th meeting of the Space Commission on May 26, 2005, it was not informed that the agreement had already taken place with Devas Multimedia for leasing out the S-Band.

"The approval of Space Commission was obtained by keeping it in dark," CBI has said.

It alleged that on November 17, 2005 a note for the Cabinet was submitted for building the GSAT-6 satellite as earlier approved by the Space Commission.

"Information regarding the agreement between Antrix Corporation Limited and Devas Multimedia Limited was suppressed from the Cabinet and the wrong information regarding utilisation of satellite capacity was given to the Cabinet with respect to multiple expressions of interest though the agreement was signed with Devas Multimedia without any multiple expressions of interest. The proposal was approved by the Cabinet in December 2005," it said.

The CBI said in its FIR that after alleged omissions and commissions on the part of accused persons surfaced, the agreement dated January 28, 2005 was annulled by Antrix Corporation in accordance with the decision of the Cabinet Committee on Security headed by the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The CBI claimed that Devas, with the intention of siphon off the amount from its bank accounts in India, got a subsidiary named Devas USA incorporated in America and a substantial part of the "wrongful" gain was remitted to the offshore company on the pretext of services, salaries etc. 

Meanwhile, Nair said he failed to understand on what basis the case has been filed.

“Actually I do not know on what basis the case been filed and the specific charges on the issue that has come up,” he said.

He said earlier, two committees--B K Charturvedi and Pratyush Sinha-- inquired into the matter and came to the conclusion that ‘there is no loss to the government or any spectrum sale has taken place’.

But, in spite of that, punishment was given to four scientists at that time, Nair said.

“Now, after four years, on the same issue, how the case has been again brought in the court is not understandable,” he said.

It was also a fact that Devas deal was challenged in an international tribunal which came to the conclusion that the government was misled at that time and action taken was totally illegal, he said.

It had also slapped nearly $1 billion (Rs 6,700 crore) on Antrix, he added.

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