New Delhi: The alleged irregularities in the grant of Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) approval to INX Media first came to light in 2016 when the Enforcement Directorate was probing a similar approval given by the Union finance ministry in the Aircel-Maxis deal. Former Finance Minister P Chidambaram has been arrested by the CBI in the prior case.
The Aircel-Maxis deal is an offshoot of the 2G spectrum allocation case and bears resemblance to the INX Media case.
According to official records, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) was looking into the role of a firm named Advantage Strategic Consulting Private Limited (ASCPL), which the investigators claim is indirectly controlled by Karti, son of P Chidambaram, in the Aircel-Maxis case when the firm’s footprints were seen in other similar deals approved by the finance ministry.
Karti Chidambaram has always denied having any control over ASCPL.
Both INX Media and Aircel-Maxis deal cases are being probed by the ED and the CBI for alleged corruption and money laundering.
In December, 2016, the ED’s then joint director (headquarters) Rajeshwar Singh wrote a letter to the then CBI director informing him about unravelling of some new evidences while his team was probing the Aircel-Maxis deal case.
It is after this letter that the CBI filed a criminal case in the INX Media deal on 15 May, 2017. Three days later, the ED took cognisance of the CBI FIR and filed a case under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).
The letter stated that probe has revealed that ASCPL received funds “in the guise of consultancy charges from some more companies and individuals that have received FIPB approvals from the Ministry of Finance.”
It also stated that documents recovered from a seized hard disk from the premises of ASCPL disclosed that INX Media paid “a sum of Rs 9,96,296 to ASCPL vide a cheque number 002914 dated 15 July, 2008.”
The letter also said that the ED has recorded the statements of the managing director and chief financial officer of INX Media who confirmed that such a payment was made.
“The record of payment clubbed with the statement of the MD and CEO of INX Media Pvt Ltd clearly indicates that this payment was not made for any services provided by ASCPL.
“On the contrary, the records also indicate that just after the issue of the cheque, FIPB approval was granted to INX News Pvt Ltd (a group company of INX group) by the Finance Ministry on November 11, 2008,” the ED officer’s letter to the CBI said.
INX Media, it said, had got FIPB approval on 31 May, 2007.
The INX Media case stems from the claim of probe agencies that the media group made downstream financial investment in INX News in alleged contravention of FIPB guidelines. However, rather than taking any action, the FIPB asked the INX group to make fresh application and subsequently approved the request.
“It is relevant to mention that at the relevant time P Chidambaram was the Finance Minister and the payment was received by ASCPL which was controlled by Karti P Chidambaram,” the letter said indicating alleged quid pro quo in the INX Media deal.
The letter stated that ASCPL never had support staff that could render any consultancy or tender advice and documentary evidence suggested that since the inception, it was being controlled by Karti and has been created for his use.