New Delhi: Former Aircel promoter C. Sivasankaran told the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Monday that former telecom minister Dayanidhi Maran had forced him to sell his stake in the telco to Malaysia-based Maxis Group.
In a statement issued in Chennai, Maran, currently India’s textiles minister, denied playing any such role. He has been defending himself against accusations of wrongdoing over Aircel and other issues, which have emerged amid the inquiry into the allocation of second-generation (2G) spectrum in 2008.
Sivasankaran, a non-resident Indian who rarely makes public appearances, was asked by CBI to depose before it. His statement was recorded at an undisclosed location in the national capital. According to highly placed CBI officials, Sivasankaran briefed the investigators about how he was “forced” to sell the Aircel stake to Maxis.
CBI, which has already registered a preliminary enquiry over 2G spectrum allocation between 2001 and 2008, is also examining the alleged quid pro quo between the Maxis Group and Sun TV, owned by Maran’s brother Kalanithi Maran. Dayanidhi Maran allegedly forced Sivasankaran to sell the stake to Maxis before awarding 14 telecom licences. In return, Maxis made an investment of around Rs 600 crore in Sun TV.
“Sivasankaran told us about the problems he had with Maran. He also briefed us about the deal between Maxis and Aircel,” a senior official, privy to developments, said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Sivasankaran could be made a complainant or a witness in the case,” the official added, suggesting that a regular case may be registered.
Another CBI official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said Sivasankaran was “forthcoming” during his interaction. “His statement will be verified with facts and evidence before arriving at any decision.”
The case could be registered soon after the agency files its second chargesheet in the 2G case. CBI has so far filed one chargesheet and a supplementary chargesheet in the case involving former Union telecom minister and Maran’s party colleague A. Raja, another party colleague K. Kanimozhi, and several top executives of telecom firms. The agency has informed the Supreme Court, which is monitoring the probe, that another chargesheet will be filed before 30 June.
“The next chargesheet will be (filed) in the last week of this month,” the second official said.
Maran was telecom minister between 2004 and 2007. He strenuously denied the allegations against him.
“Most of you have been trying to make a story today saying that I forced, arm-twisted...a person to sell his business to (another) person. Let me tell you, Sivasankaran is not a millionaire, but a multi-billionaire. No one can force anyone to sell the business,” Maran said.
Sivasankaran was planning to sell the company even before he became telecom minister, Maran said, citing media reports published in 2004. “If anyone feels that he was forced to sell his business, he can always go to the court,” Maran said. “I will address appropriate authorities and prove my innocence.”
Maran had earlier said that he was unbiased as a minister.
“I vouch that during my tenure as minister of communications and IT (information technology), I was totally impartial in taking decisions,” he said. “I have not favoured any company over others. Neither any applicant company was allowed to jump the queue in grant of UASL (unified access service licence) nor was there any loss to the exchequer.”
Sivasankaran heads the $3 billion Siva Group, with operations in realty, telecom, shipping, energy, agriculture exports and e-education/software.
Maxis has a 74% stake in Aircel, which has a presence across the country.
Phone calls and email sent to both Sivasankaran and the Maxis Group remained unanswered.
V. Srinivasan, group CEO and director, Siva Group, said over the telephone: “I have no comments. I was travelling for the whole of last week and I’ve come back just today. Our chairman had been called and he has gone there. I have not had a chat with my chairman and so I don’t know what transpired.”
Sivasankaran has been involved in India’s mobile telephony industry since its inception in 1994, when he won the Delhi circle. He has been closely associated with the Tata group as well. In 2006, Sivasankaran acquired about 8.6% of Tata Teleservices Ltd for Rs 1,200 crore. This fell to around 6% when Japan-based NTT DoCoMo Inc. bought a 26% stake in the firm early last year.
He also holds a majority stake in new telecom licence holder STel, which has licences for eight circles in the country. The remainder is held by Bahrain-based telco Batelco.
On Friday, Sun TV denied any involvement in the 2G scam.
“There has been a steep fall in the prices of the company’s shares possibly triggered by baseless allegations and rumours linking the company with certain happenings relating to the 2G scam,” it said.
“We wish to inform that Sun TV Network and Kalanithi Maran do not have any relationship whatsoever to any of these happenings,” it added.
Dayanidhi Maran is also facing allegations that he got Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) to lay secret cables to connect 323 lines from his home to the Sun TV office during his tenure to set up an exchange. According to the allegations separately probed by CBI, Maran got BSNL to lay separate and exclusive underground cables from his Boat Club home to the Sun TV office at Anna Arivalayam in Anna Salai and fraudulently linked the 323 home lines to his brother’s Sun TV Network. The allegation has been denied by Maran.
Anupama Chandrasekaran and Shauvik Ghosh of Mint and PTI contributed to this story.