The Central Bureau of Investigation on Tuesday searched the homes and offices of Karti Chidambaram, son of former Finance Minister P Chidambaram, across four cities for allegedly receiving money from a media firm owned by Indrani and Peter Mukerjea to scuttle a tax probe.
CBI sleuths fanned out across the Chidambarams’ properties in Chennai, Mumbai, Delhi and Gurugram early in the morning. The investigating agency had filed an FIR on Monday evening on charges of criminal conspiracy, cheating, receiving illegal gratification, influencing public servants and criminal misconduct.
It is alleged that Karti received money from INX Media for using his influence to manipulate a tax probe against it in a case of violation of Foreign Investment Promotion Board conditions to receive investment from Mauritius.
His father issued a strong statement in response to say that the government was using the CBI and other agencies to target his son.
FIPB approval was granted in “hundreds of cases”, the senior Congress leader said.
“The government, using the CBI and other agencies, is targeting my son and his friends... The government’s aim is to silence my voice and stop me from writing, as it has tried to do in the cases of leaders of opposition parties, journalists, columnists, NGOs and civil society organisations,” he said.
Karti Chidambaram said he has not done anything wrong and alleged a political vendetta behind the CBI raids against him.
“They have not seized any documents and cannot prove any charges against me. I have not done anything wrong,” Karti told reporters in Chennai.
Claiming that the central government was acting out a ‘political vendetta’, he said the raid was being held to ‘silence the voice’ of his father.
Ruling out a vendetta, Union Minister of State for Shipping, Pon Radhakrishnan, said in Madurai that searches being carried out by CBI were as part of its investigation into the INX media case.
Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam working president M K Stalin accused the Centre of ‘misusing’ agencies like the CBI and said the former Union minister and his son would face the matter legally.
But he would continue to speak and write, the former minister declared.
The five secretaries who constitute the FIPB, the officials of the FIPB secretariat and the competent authority in each case are public officials, Chidambaram said, adding that there was no allegation against any of them.
“There is no allegation against me,” he added.
Every case was processed according to law and approval was granted or refused in accordance with the recommendations of the FIBP, he maintained.
According to the CBI, INX Media clearly states in its records that Rs 10 lakh was given to Advantage Straetgic Consulting (P) Limited, a firm “indirectly” owned by Karti, for management consultancy charged towards FIPB notification and clarification.
The FIR also alleges that invoices of approximately Rs 3.5 crore were raised in favour of INX group in the name of other companies in which Karti had substantial interests “directly or indirectly”.
The agency has registered an FIR against Karti, his company Chess Management Services, the Mukerjeas (currently in jail on charges of murder their daughter Sheena Bora), INX Media, Advantage Strategic Consulting Services and its Director Padma Vishwanathan.
The allegations levelled by the CBI are based on the information given by “source”, the FIR has claimed.
Ironically, though the FIR names Karti and claims that he exerted his influence on finance ministry officials, it does not identify the officials of either the FIPB or the ministry or list them as accused.
The CBI, which searched Chidambaram’s home in Nugambakkam in Chennai, also carried out searches at the house of former media baron Peter Mukerjea, sources said.
INX Media was seeking investment from Mauritius, an official explained. The investment was allowed by the FIPB board and the finance minister with the condition that only Rs 4.62 crore could be received; for investment in INX News Pvt Ltd, a separate proposal was required.
The company allegedly violated the conditions set by the FIPB and received investment to the tune of 26 per cent in the capital of INX News which included foreign investment.
It allegedly generated more than Rs 305 crore of FDI in INX Media against the approved inflow of Rs 4.62 crore by issuing shares to foreign investors at a premium of more than Rs 800 per share.
The violation prompted an Income Tax department probe. INX Media claimed that the investment was done as per FIPB conditions. In order to wriggle out of the situation without any punitive action, INX Media entered into criminal conspiracy with Karti P Chidambaram whose father was the finance minister of the country, the agency alleged.
It said officials, by virtue of the influence exercised over them by Karti, not only ignored serious illegalities on the part of INX Media but also showed undue favours by abusing their official position and advised the company to file for fresh clearance.
The officials of the FIPB unit ignored the request of the Revenue Department to investigate how the investment was made by the company without FIPB approval.
The company, on the advice of FIPB officials, filed a fresh request which was cleared by the finance ministry and the Finance Minister.
“Such deceitful and fallacious proposal was favourably considered by the officials of Finance Ministry and approved by the then Finance Minister,” it alleged.
“By such partisan and malafide acts done pursuant to the criminal conspiracy with the beneficiary company and the intermediaries, the senior officials of the finance ministry not only granted the illegal approval but also misinformed the investigation... by Income Tax department,” it said.
The Congress, meanwhile, asserted that this is a political vendetta of the worst kind.
Senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh took to Twitter to condemn the ongoing raids.
‘Strongly condemn raids against Chidambaram and Karti Chidambaram. Political vendetta of the worst kind,’ he tweeted.
Congress leader Pramod Tiwari said the Bharatiya Janata Party has always initiated such things with the intention of taking revenge, be it in the Virbhadra Singh case, National Herald case or the present raids.
"Right from the day the BJP has come to power, it has launched investigations with the intention of taking revenge. It is using the CBI and other legal tools against all its opponents. It did so in Virbhadra Singh case, National Herald, against Manmohan Singh also. Same is it doing now against Chidambaram, who is known for his honesty," Tiwari said.
With inputs from ANI.
Photograph: PTI Photo