By Rajnish Singh
New Delhi, Aug 23 (IANS) Following Enforcement Directorate’s lead, the CBI’s custodial interrogation of former Union Minister P. Chidambaram is expanding from INX Media to other firms which were given Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearances by the Congress leader during his tenure as the Finance Minister in the UPA government.
After a special court on Thursday sent Chidambaram to four-day CBI custody till August 26, the probe agency is now specifically focusing on all FIPB and FDI clearances given by Chidambaram, said a source, adding, “However, it is very difficult to crack him”.
On Day 2 of Chidambaram’s interrogation following his arrest on Wednesday night, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is enlarging its scope of investigation from INX Media to Aircel-Maxis and four more business deals, suspecting his role in granting alleged illegal FIPB clearances and receiving multi-crore kickbacks through several shell firms, sources said on Friday.
The sources said the CBI is looking at Chidambaram’s role in grating alleged illegal FIPB approvals to Diageo Scotland Ltd, Katara Holdings, Essar Steel Ltd and Elforge Ltd.
The FIPB, which used to function under the Union Finance Ministry, has now been scrapped.
The ED in its money laundering probe against Chidambaram under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) has already expanded its investigation on the same lines.
On ED’s lead based on evidences of alleged illegal deposits of over Rs 300 crore made in a single shell firm after purported kickbacks were received by Chidambaram and his son Karti Chidambaram in lieu of granting illegal FIPB and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) approvals, the CBI has asked the Congress leader to clarify the matter.
The CBI’s focus is to investigate the enormity of the money involved, not only in the INX Media case, but also other cases related to FIPB approvals given by Chidambaram during his tenure as Finance Minister in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.
Chidambaram was the Union Finance Minister starting May 2004 through 2014, except for a three-and-a-half-year stint beginning November 2008 when he was made the Home Minister. He returned as Finance Minister in July 2012, succeeding Pranab Mukherjee, who demitted office to become the President of India.
The CBI on Wednesday night arrested Chidambaram from his Jor Bagh residence here, more than two years after it filed an FIR against him in the case.
The CBI is also scrutinising Chidambaram’s alleged involvement in the Aircell-Maxis case and the Air India deal. The CBI in July last year named Chidambaram and his son as accused in the Aircel-Maxis case in a supplementary charge-sheet.
The agency charged the Congress leader of receiving kickbacks for ensuring FIPF clearance for the Rs 3,500 crore deal.
In October last year, the ED filed a supplementary charge-sheet against Chidambaram and nine others, including his son.
In the INX Media case, the CBI is probing alleged irregularities in the FIPB clearance given to the firm for receiving overseas funds of Rs 305 crore in 2007 when Chidambaram was the Finance Minister. The CBI filed an FIR in the case on May 15, 2017.
Persons familiar with the developments in the case said that the CBI quizzed Chidambaram on Wednesday and Thursday night on the money trail and the alleged subsequent “investments made with the money that was received as kickbacks in the INX deal”.
The details of his “shell firms based out of India”, the details of his meetings with INX Media co-founder Indrani Mukherjea, as well as the alleged “leeway granted to Chidambaram’s son Karti in the INX Media deal” are being looked into.
As per sources, the ED has found that Chidambaram and Karti Chidambaram are “beneficial owners” of several shell firms that have been incorporated both in India and abroad.
The shell firms were allegedly used to receive bribes for the illegal FIPB clearances given by Chidambaram during his tenure as the Finance Minister in alleged connivance with Karti Chidambaram. In one of such company, deposits of over Rs 300 crore were made.
The agency’s probe found that the alleged kickbacks received by the Chidambarams through the shell firms were used to meet their “personal expenses”.
It has been detected that a shell firm linked to Karti Chidambaram received “huge payments” from a British Virgin Islands-based firm that also figured in the global data leaks of foreign share holding of various entities, also known as the Panama Papers.
The CBI may also focus on Chidambaram’s involvement in the Air India case which pertains to the purchase of 43 aircraft from Airbus and 68 from Boeing for Rs 70,000 crore in 2007.
The purchase order was cleared by an empowered group of ministers headed by Chidambaram when he was the Finance Minister. The case is also being probe by the ED under the PMLA.
(Rajnish Singh can be contacted at [email protected])