The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has named former finance minister P Chidambaram, his son Karti Chidambaram, and 12 others, including bureaucrats, as accused in its prosecution complaint, or charge sheet, filed before a Delhi court on Friday in the INX Media case.
The probe agency has charged Chidambaram and Karti, Congress MP from Tamil Nadu’s Shivaganga constituency, with causing losses to the government and taxpayers by receiving kickbacks from corporates for illegally granting approvals for foreign investments. The charge sheet has been filed under various sections of the Prevention of Corruption Act and the Indian Penal Code.
The Supreme Court, meanwhile, reserved its verdict on Chidambaram's plea against the Delhi High Court order denying him bail in the case.
The CBI said there was a key witness in the case who accused Chidambaram of “attempting intimidation”. It, however, could not ascertain whether the approval granted to INX Media for receiving overseas funds was influenced and compromised.
“He (the unnamed witness) has given his statement under Section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (recorded before a magistrate), saying he is being influenced. His name has been withheld because he was threatened,” said a CBI source. The agency is learnt to have submitted the identity of the witness to court in a sealed cover. The matter will be taken up for hearing on October 21.
Earlier, the CBI was relying upon the statement of accused-turned-approver Indrani Mukherjea. In her statement recorded under the same section, she had said she met the former FM along with husband Peter Mukherjea in 2007. The Mukherjeas are in prison, facing charges in connection with the murder of their daughter.
Indrani was pardoned by the Special CBI court in July after she moved a plea. The CBI too had supported her application after she turned approver in the case. The agency has mentioned the status in the charge sheet.
In its 1,000-plus page prosecution complaint, the CBI also named former NITI Aayog chief executive officer Sindhushree Khullar, former secretary in the Ministry of Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises Anup K Pujari, principal secretary in the Himachal Pradesh government and a retired under-secretary Rabindra Prasad, among others. These officers were then working at the economic affairs department of the finance ministry and allegedly involved in illegally granting Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance to INX.
Other than these, the agency also named a few companies, including Karti Chidambaram-controlled Advantage Strategic Consulting (ASCL) and Chess Management Services. ASCL and Chess Management allegedly received kickbacks through a complex structure.
The CBI had registered a case in May 2017 to investigate the allegation that INX Media had received foreign investment of Rs 403.07 crore against the approved FDI amount Rs 4.62 crore only. Further, the company illegally invested Rs 40.91 crore in its sister concern INX News from the received FDI amount without approval from the FIPB in violation of provisions of the Foreign Exchange Maintenance Act (FEMA).
During investigation, it was found that Indrani Mukherjea and Peter Mukherjea, directors of INX Media, entered into a criminal conspiracy with the then finance minister Chidambaram and Karti (the then director of Chess Management Services), besides senior officials at the FIPB unit and the DEA, for getting the issue settled without any penal action against them. This caused undue pecuniary advantage to the companies concerned in terms of possible penalty under FEMA, which could have been up to three time the amount involved.
Sources said the CBI in its report has given incriminating documents such as mail trails recovered from the seized hard disk. The agency alleged that the former FM had received several complaints regarding foreign direct investments exceeding limit and was being sent to different agencies. The FIPB was not informed about the complaints received by the former minister.
The charge sheet highlighted that the then revenue secretary, who was also a FIPB member, chose not to attend the meeting of the board where a fresh proposal was to be decided. His representative was in the meeting and gave a dissent note.
Chidambaram, currently in Enforcement Directorate custody, spent 55 days in the CBI and judicial custody.