The Karti Chidambaram dealings are getting murkier. If one looks closely at the details of the charges against him, it is hardly surprising that he was arrested on arrival from London. His arrest at the airport lounge in Chennai may have surprised many. It was kept a closely guarded secret because the CBI and its intelligence wing were tracking every move that Karti made during his recent London trip. Though the trip, according to Karti, was for his daughter’s education, he used the opportunity to close some of the fishy bank accounts and wipe out footprints that could lead agencies follow his long money laundering journey across continents.
The first charge against Karti is based on a Rs 10 lakh transaction, which happened between INX Media and Advantage Strategic Consulting Pvt Ltd. The second charge is that he accepted bribe of Rs 6 crore for suppressing taxation.
So, let us see the second case based on which Karti was arrested.
On February 17, Indrani Mukherjee, co-founder of INX Media, and now a murder suspect, had recorded her statement, under section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code, in front of a magistrate where she confessed that she, along with her husband Peter Mukherjea, had met Karti in a hotel where he demanded $1 million (Rs 6 crore) in foreign currency to clear approvals for foreign funding sought by INX media.
Such a confession cannot be withdrawn and, secondly, the confession must be backed by solid evidence showing the money trail. But at the heart of this confessional statement is the credibility of Indrani. She is being prosecuted by the CBI in the case of the murder of her daughter Sheena Bora. Hence, it could be argued that the statement might have been made to please the CBI or was forced out of her by the investigating agency. The Congress has almost termed her as mentally unsound.
But why did she make such a statement 10 years after the alleged meeting? The CBI version is that they knew that the meeting had taken place but the agency had to corroborate the confession. So, they first collected all the details like travel, hotel bookings, car rentals, dates, timings etc. When all this matched, Indrani was confronted and then she made the statement.
According to the CBI, “Indrani might be a murder suspect and even might be guilty of the crime but she was speaking the truth when it came to her meeting with Karti. We have seen travel details of the couple. Their stay in the hotel etc. Everything is on record”.
So the question is did P Chidambaram as the then finance minister facilitate and orchestrate this deal.
According to the BJP, Chidambaram is now directly in the line of fire with deposition of Indrani Mukerjea. This is an open and shut case of political corruption, according to BJP spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao.
In fact, the CBI is building up a case against Chidambaram brick by brick as he appears to have emerged as one of the key players.
In fact, the case sheet prepared by the Enforcement Directorate has allegedly named Chidambaram.
Peter and Indrani, who used to run the Mumbai-based INX media, now 9X Media, told the ED that they had met Chidambaram at his office in North Block. The duo allegedly revealed during interrogation that the former finance minister had asked them to help his son’s business and to make foreign remittances for this purpose.
If such a meeting did take place, the records and visitors’ books at North Block would show specific entries.
After this meeting with Chidambaram, the Indrani and Peter admitted that they met Karti Chidambaram at Hotel Hyatt in Delhi. There must be record of this too. It was in this meeting where a demand was allegedly made for the illegal gratification of $ 1 million or Rs 6 crores approx.
Not wanting to dirty his hands with bribe amount, Karti allegedly suggested names of Chess Management Services Pvt Ltd and Advantage Strategic Consulting Pvt Ltd to make the payments as alternatives. Chess Management is owned by Karti.
Karti’s culpability can only be attributed if the extent of his ownership of Advantage is proved. This is because ultimately Advantage took the money, not Karti. Like his father, Karti is a clever man who knows how to take the narrow and shady financial bylanes instead of the highway where he can be tracked and caught red-handed. He eased himself out of Advantage as a director. So, will he get away? No. Look at the four wills of the four directors of Advantage, Kriya FMCG Distributors Private Limited, and Rochester Technology Solutions Private Limited — CBN Reddy, S Bhaskaraman, Ravi Viswanathan and V Padma. In the almost identical wills they have bequeathed their entire shareholding in their firms to one Aditi Chidambaram. No prize for guessing who Aditi is. Karti Chidambaram is the executor of the wills and Aditi is his daughter.
If this is true, Karti is in a soup. He may have eased himself out of Advantage, but by virtue of the operation of the wills, he automatically becomes a 60 percent owner of Advantage, the company which has received money from INX Media.
There is more. The remaining 40 percent shares of Advantage is held by Ausbridge Holdings. If you look at the background of this company, Karti once upon a time owned 95 percent of the firm. It is now in the hands of Mohanan Rajesh, alleged to be a neighbour and a close associate of Karti.
Adding all this up, Advantage is indirectly owned completely as a corporate entity by Karti Chidambaram.
In the first involving Rs 10 lakh, the CBI states that the money was paid to facilitate an illegal approval from the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB). At the time, Chidambaram was the Finance Minister of India, and hence his position to influence such a decision is beyond doubt.
Based on all this evidence, Karti’s arrest should have ideally happened earlier. Another charge by the agencies, that Karti was in the process of destroying evidence, is again very serious, and when proven, will make the accused ineligible for bail. One of the primary grounds for rejection of bail is destruction of evidence, as has been established in Criminal Law.
Ultimately, the aim of the CBI is to corner Chidambaram. When the trail gets hot at Chidambaram’s doorsteps, the investigating agencies will surely attribute primary culpability to Chidambaram, and not Karti. It was he as the then Finance Minister directly or indirectly facilitated such murky dealings. The law is bound to catch up with him.
The Congress has taken a cliched stand that the whole affair smacks of political vendetta. But instead of alleging vendetta, the accused should prepare their case in court. And look at the irony. Karti and his family should be the last people to cry vendetta. It may be recalled here that Karti had an ordinary citizen arrested for merely tweeting against him, back in 2012, when his father held the reigns of power.
Karti will be in CBI custody till March 6. He has been denied home food. The CBI will confront him with all the evidence and documents. But Karti is a tough accused and is known to be evasive and often does not cooperate. Will he sing before the CBI is the big question.
The Modi government may be heating up the Chidambaram case to deflect attention from the Nirav Modi PNB scam. Clearly embarrassed by Nirav Modi fleeing with over Rs 12000 crore, the BJP is in serious damage control mode. And before 2019 elections, one sees a pattern emerging. Narendra Modi could not bring back the promised black money from Swiss bank vaults or stop people like Vijay Mallya or Nirav Modi hoodwinking authorities. But he can surely say that he has some big fish in jail – Lalu Prasad Yadav, Vikram Kothari of Rotamac Pens and now Karti Chidambaram for example.
Also facing the heat is Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh’s son-in-law, Gurpal Singh, in connection with Simbhaoli Sugar loan default case to the tune of Rs 97.85. The CBI has also booked Kolkata-based computer company RP Infosystem Ltd and its directors for defrauding a consortium of Canara Bank and 16 other lender of more than Rs 500 crore. The group is reportedly close to Mamata Banerjee.
One thing in common is that there are no BJP fraudsters. That is surprising. But the BJP pitch in 2019 will be that the NDA has been relentless in fighting corruption. Forget `Hindustan Leavers’ Vijay Mallya or Nirav Modi. There are other big fish to showcase in 2019.