Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram on Monday said it was ‘preposterous’ to suggest that any member of his family could influence six secretaries of the central government who were part of the Foreign Investment Promotion Board.
Strongly refuting allegations that his son Karti had influenced the decisions of the now-defunct FIPB when he was the finance minister, Chidambaram said it was a ‘despicable slur’ on the six secretaries of the government.
The FIPB used to vet FDI proposals requiring government approval.
The former finance minister said any one familiar with the working of the FIPB knows that no single officer could take a decision on any proposal and it was a collective decision of six secretaries.
‘Any one who has worked with me knows that no one would dare to influence my decisions. I had never allowed any family member to speak to me or to any officer of my ministry on any official matter,’ he said in a statement.
It was therefore, he said, ‘preposterous’ to suggest that a member of his family, with or without his knowledge, influenced, by corrupt or illegal means, the six secretaries who constituted the FIPB.
‘Such an allegation is a despicable slur on the six secretaries of the government who constituted the FIPB at the relevant time,’ he said.
The Central Bureau of Investigation last fortnight had filed an FIR against Karti and INX Media founders Indrani and Peter Mukerjea on charges of criminal conspiracy, cheating, receiving illegal gratification, influencing public servants and criminal misconduct.
The CBI claims that Karti received money from INX Media through a company ‘indirectly controlled by him’ for using his influence to manipulate a tax probe against it in a case of violation of FIPB conditions to receive investment from Mauritius.
The Congress leader said the subject matter of the FIR was an approval granted by the FIPB and it was clear that he was the target, yet the FIR did not name him.
The former finance minister said as far as FIPB cases were concerned, he had approved only those cases that were recommended by the FIPB and put up to him by the secretary, economic affairs.
Chidambaram said the FIPB was serviced by a secretariat and chaired by the secretary, economic affairs and included four other secretaries--industry, commerce, external affairs and overseas Indian affairs and the secretary of the administrative ministry.
Five of them were among the senior-most Indian Administrative Services officers and the sixth was a senior Indian Foreign Service officer of the Ministry of External Affairs.
The Congress leader said each one of them had a long and distinguished record of service. The recommendations of the FIPB were submitted to the Ministry of Finance where they were once again examined by the junior officers and then by the additional secretary and the secretary before the file was put up to the minister, he said.
Each file put up to the minister would usually contain a number of cases and the recommendations of the FIPB and the secretary, economic affairs, he said.
‘At the relevant time, the FIPB was chaired by D Subba Rao, IAS, who later became the governor of RBI (Reserve Bank of India). He was succeeded by Ashok Chawla, IAS, who later became Chairman of the Competition Commission of India. The other secretaries were equally distinguished civil servants,’ he said.
Chidambaram said in the last two weeks, leaks and insinuations have been ‘deliberately fed’ to a section of the media and ‘maliciously circulated’ in the social media.
‘In fact, I have obtained a copy of the FIR from the social media. The origin of these leaks is Chennai in my home state of Tamil Nadu,’ he said.
‘The FIR alleges that there was a conspiracy involving public officials who were induced by corrupt and illegal means to grant the approval, yet the FIR does not name a single public official,’ he said.
Chidambaram said the most ‘ridiculous allegation’ is that the ‘so-called gratification’ was a cheque for Rs 10 lakh.
He said the cheque was in favour of a consulting company that had raised an invoice for work done, accounted for the income, and paid income tax on the amount.
The Congress leader said he can say with absolute certainty that Karti had never met any officer connected with the FIPB. Besides, he had no connection with the applicant company--INX Media and INX News.
Further, he said, Karti was never a director or shareholder of M/s Advantage Strategic Consulting Pvt Ltd.
The promoters and directors of ASCPL have, on more than one occasion, made it clear that ASCPL is their company and they alone are responsible for the business of that company.
They are business friends of Karti and have normal relations that are common among business friends, he said.
‘I feel sad that my son and his business friends are being targeted. I am indignant that some of the most distinguished civil servants of the country have been humiliated by the FIR,’ he said.
Chidambaram said in the case, it was not one secretary but six secretaries and the FIPB secretariat who were being ‘humiliated on a ridiculous charge’ of being induced by an alleged gratification of Rs 10 lakh.
‘I make this statement so that the misinformation emanating from Chennai is exposed. Ultimately, the course of law will expose the mischief makers. I have advised my son to fully cooperate with the investigation and he will do so,’ he said.