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INX Media: Chidambaram conspired with son, misused official position, says CBI charge sheet
New Delhi: Former finance minister P Chidambaram "misused his official position" in granting approval to a FDI proposal of INX Media and INX News Pvt Ltd in lieu of "illegal gratification" in India and through offshore payments, the CBI claimed in its charge sheet filed against him and 13 others in the INX Media corruption case. The charge sheet in which 74-year-old Chidambaram, his son Karti and 12 others including bureaucrats were accused of causing loss to the exchequer by committing offences under the Prevention of Corruption (PC) Act was filed in a court on a day the Supreme Court reserved its verdict on the Congress veteran''s plea against the Delhi High Court order denying him bail in the corruption case.

Besides Chidambaram and Karti, the final report also named S Bhaskararaman, Karti''s Chartered Accountant and Peter (Pratim) Mukherjea, the then director of INX Media Limited. The name of Indrani Mukerjea, a former promoter of INX Media and an accused-turned approver, also appears in the final report. The other accused named in the charge sheet are Sindhushree Khullar, the then Additional Secretary, Department of Economic Affairs(DEA), Ministry of Finance(MoF); INX Media Pvt Ltd, presently 9X Media Pvt Ltd; INX News Pvt Ltd, presently Direct News; Chess Management Services Pvt Ltd; Advantage Strategic Consulting Pvt Ltd (ASCPL); Ajeet Kumar Dungdung, the then section officer of FIPB unit(MoF); Rabindra Prasad, the then under secretary of FIPB unit; Pradeep Kumar Bagga, the then OSD, DEA; Prabodh Saxena, Director of FIPB Unit and Anup K Pujari, the then Joint Secretary (Foreign Trade) in the DEA. Chidambaram, who has spent nearly 2 months in CBI and judicial custody after his arrest by the CBI on August 21 in the corruption case, is currently in the custody of the Enforcement Directorate(ED) in a related money laundering matter.

The charge sheet was filed just a couple of days before the mandatory 60-day period from the day of arrest of Chidambaram in the corruption case to do so expires on October 20, i.e., Sunday, failing which he would have been entitled for grant of ''default bail'' under the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC). The CBI registered an FIR on May 15, 2017 alleging irregularities in a Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance granted to the INX Media group for receiving overseas funds of Rs 305 crore in 2007 during Chidambaram''s tenure as the finance minister. The charge sheet was filed before Special Judge Lal Singh since the judge of the court concerned was not available on Friday.

The matter will be taken up for consideration by Special Judge Ajay Kumar Kuhar on October 21. The report was filed under sections 120-B (criminal conspiracy), read with 420 (cheating), 468 (forgery for purpose of cheating), 471 (using as genuine a forged document or electronic record) of IPC and various sections of the Prevention of Corruption Act, including section 9 (taking gratification, for exercise of personal influence with public servant). The maximum punishment for these offences is seven years. "Investigations revealed that Karti had floated a front company, ASCPL, for receiving illegal payoffs in the guise of various consultancies other fees and payments. INX Media had also made a payment of Rs 9.96 lakh into the account of ASCPL, an illegal payoff without delivering any service," the charge sheet claimed.

The final report included the statement of Indrani Mukharjea, "who revealed the role played by then finance minister and his son Karti in according approval to FDI proposal in INX Media and INX News Pvt Ltd in lieu illegal gratification in India and through offshore payments". "Indrani in her statement had told CBI that she paid a bribe of US $ five million through offshore payments. LRs have been issued to probe this. The meeting between P Chidambaram and Indrani to discuss all this was held between March and April 2007," CBI sources claimed. The CBI registered the case to investigate INX Media Pvt Ltd receiving foreign investment of Rs 403.07 crore against the approved FDI amount of only Rs 4.62 crore.

"Further this company illegally invested Rs 40.91 crore in its sister concern INX News Pvt Ltd from the received FDI amount without approval from FIPB in violation of provisions of Foreign Exchange Maintenance Act. "During investigation it was found that Mukherjeas, directors of INX Media Pvt Ltd entered into a criminal conspiracy with the then finance minister Chidambaram and his son Karti, the then director of Chess Management Services Pvt Ltd, and the then public servants of FIPB unit, DEA, for getting the issue settled without any penal action against them and thus caused undue pecuniary advantage to the companies concerned in terms of possible penalty under FEMA," the charge sheet claimed. After the CBI registered an FIR, the ED lodged a related money-laundering case.

In the Supreme Court, the CBI claimed that a person "reasonably in know-how of the things" and whose identity has been withheld even in the charge sheet forms a crucial basis of the INX Media corruption case. Belying the belief that Indrani Mukherjea''s statement was the basis of Chidambaram''s prosecution in the case, the CBI said the ''mysterious person'' has claimed that he was being "influenced" and "intimidated" by the senior Congress leader when not under arrest. "He is the person who has given his statement under section 164 of the CrPC (recorded before a judicial magistrate) that he was being influenced and intimidated. We do not wish to disclose his identity even in the charge sheet," Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the CBI, told a bench headed by Justice R Banumathi.

"He (Chidambaram) tried to influence this person when he was out. He is not Indrani or Peter Mukherjea but he is the person who has reasonably known the things and his statement forms part of the charge sheet. Statement of Indrani Mukherjea is also a part of the charge sheet," Mehta told the bench.

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