New Delhi: Former Finance Minister P Chidambaram today appeared before the Enforcement Directorate for the second round of questioning in the Aircel-Maxis money laundering case, officials said. The senior Congress leader arrived at the ED’s headquarter annexe office here shortly before 11 am, they said. He was summoned for today after he was first questioned on June 5 by the agency, a department that reported to him during his tenure in the Finance Ministry. The investigating officer of the case is expected to record Chidambaram’s statement under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) today, like the last time, they added.
It is understood that the agency wants to put across a fresh set of questions to him regarding the deal and decisions taken by him. The agency had recorded his statement for six hours on various aspects last time. The ED had earlier recorded statements of FIPB officials when this deal took place and it is expected that Chidambaram may be confronted with these too. Some specific queries on circumstances and procedures adopted by the now-defunct Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) while giving approval to the Aircel-Maxis deal during his tenure were reported to have been put to him last time, they said.
Chidambaram’s son Karti has already been questioned by the ED in this case, twice. After leaving the ED office on June 5, Chidambaram had tweeted that all answers he gave to the probe agency were already recorded in government documents. He also had said that there is no FIR, yet a probe had been initiated. “More than half the time taken up by typing the answers without errors, reading the statement and signing it!, he had said in his tweet. Chidambaram, also a former home minister, earlier had approached the court of Special Judge O P Saini seeking relief from arrest by the ED in the case. The court then directed the ED not to take any coercive action or arrest him till July 10 in connection with the case.
The ED had first asked him to appear before it on May 30 and on the same day, Chidambaram knocked the court’s door. The court, in its order on May 30, had noted that Chidambaram has undertaken to comply with summons issued by the ED, while saying he apprehended his arrest by the agency. The Aircel-Maxis cases pertains to grant of Foreign Investment Promotion Board clearance to firm M/S Global Communication Holding Services Ltd in 2006 for investment in Aircel. The Supreme Court had on March 12 directed investigating agencies — the CBI and the ED — to complete their probe into the 2G spectrum allocation cases, including the Aircel Maxis alleged money laundering case, in six months.
The agency had said that the FIPB approval in the Aircel-Maxis FDI case was granted in March 2006 by Chidambaram even though he was competent to accord approval on project proposals only up to Rs 600 crore and beyond that it required the approval of the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA). The ED is investigating “the circumstances of the FIPB approval granted (in 2006) by the then finance minister”. “In the instant case, the approval for FDI of USD 800 million (over Rs 3,500 crore) was sought. Hence, the CCEA was competent to grant the approval. “However, the approval was not obtained from the CCEA,” the ED had alleged.
The agency said its probe revealed that the case of the said FDI was “wrongly projected as an investment of Rs 180 crore so that it need not be sent to the CCEA to avoid a detailed scrutiny”. The ED is probing the Aircel-Maxis deal under the PMLA after taking cognisance of a 2011 CBI FIR in the case. The senior Chidambaram had earlier described the ED action in this case as a “crazy mixture of falsehoods and conjectures” and said that the charge sheet filed by probe agencies was rejected by the court. However, the agencies maintained that the FIR in the case had not been quashed. In September last year, the ED had attached assets worth Rs 1.16 crore of Karti and a firm allegedly linked to him in connection with this case.