New Delhi/Chennai: In a development that could further strain ties between the Congress and its political ally, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, or DMK, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) registered a criminal conspiracy and corruption case against former telecom minister and party leader Dayanidhi Maran and his brother and Sun TV promoter Kalanithi Maran for alleged improprieties in the Aircel-Maxis deal.
Ralph Marshall, deputy chairman of Astro All Asia Networks Plc and director of Malaysia-based Maxis Communications Bhd, and T. Ananda Krishnan, chairman of Usaha Tegas Sdn. Bhd in Malaysia, were also charged for corruption and conspiracy.
CBI separately named Sun Direct TV Pvt. Ltd, Astro All Asia Networks and Maxis Communications as accused in the same first information report (FIR) registered late on Sunday night, a day before the agency conducted searches at the residences and offices of the Marans in both Delhi and Chennai. The DMK leader had resigned from the Union cabinet in July after allegations of impropriety and corruption emerged in a CBI status report to the Supreme Court.
The apex investigative agency also searched the residence of Suneeta Reddy of Apollo Hospitals. “She is not an accused in the FIR. But (her immediate family) holds 26% in Aircel after Maxis was bought over. She is privy to all the developments. Since search of documents lead to her, there was no need of any warrant to search her house,” a CBI spokesperson said in Delhi.
“There will be no imminent arrest of any accused in the fresh case. The agency doesn’t arrest any accused unless there is a suspicion that accused would flee or can tamper with the investigation,” a high-ranking CBI official said on condition of anonymity. “But we will be questioning all the accused and witnesses again, and record their statements. Except Krishnan, all have been questioned. We will now question him as well.”
The Marans, DMK leaders and the Apollo group were not available for comment. Earlier, Dayanidhi Maran had denied the accusations against him.
An Indian spokesman of the Maxis group declined to comment. However, Reuters quoted a company statement saying “Maxis will continue to cooperate with CBI in its investigation in full confidence that the allegations against it will prove to be unfounded and without basis”. Astro did not respond to an email sent by Mint seeking its response.
CBI said it had “enough documentary evidence” against the accused and a letter rogatory will soon be sent to Malaysia seeking further information about the companies.
This is a second case in the second-generation (2G) spectrum allocation scam and is over and above the case registered against A. Raja, who succeeded Maran as telecom minister, and K. Kanimozhi, who is a member of Parliament in the Rajya Sabha and daughter of DMK patriarch M. Karunanidhi. Others involved in the first case are top executives from Anil Ambani-controlled Reliance Group, Unitech, Etisalat DB Telecom Services Pvt. Ltd and Kalaignar TV.
CBI took up investigations of the Aircel-Maxis deal after the Supreme Court, which is monitoring the investigation of the spectrum allocation scam of 2008, asked the federal agency to probe the issue of telecom licences and spectrum between 2001 and 2008. Maran was telecom minister from 2004 to 2007 in the United Progressive Alliance government’s first term. Prior to Maran, Arun Shourie (2003-2004) and Pramod Mahajan (2001-2003) were telecom ministers, but in the rival National Democratic Alliance government.
CBI’s investigations got a boost after C. Sivasankaran alleged that Maran coerced him into selling his telecom company Aircel to Maxis before awarding Aircel 14 telecom licences. In an alleged quid pro quo, Maxis through Astro made an investment of around Rs600 crore in Sun TV. Sivasankaran alleged that Maran deliberately did not clear telecom licences to Aircel when the firm belonged to him. CBI has questioned Sivasankaran as well.
“DoT (department of telecommunications) officials, who were questioned, have confirmed there was unnecessary delay in granting telecom licences to Sivasankaran-owned Aircel,” said another senior CBI official. “And licences were hastily cleared when Aircel was sold to Maxis. But there is no proof of Maran arm-twisting Sivasankaran to sell his company.”
The agency, which consulted experts, however found that Astro picked up a stake in Sun TV at a much higher price then the estimated market value. According to CBI officials, Marshall, who served on the boards of both Maxis and Astro, played a crucial role in the deal.
In New Delhi, Congress spokesman Manish Tewari declined to comment.
Meanwhile, after reports of raids on premises belonging to the Marans, there was a temporary setback for Sun TV shares, which dropped nearly 7% on Monday morning. The stock recovered in the afternoon and closed at Rs288.15, up 10.21%. The benchmark Sensex rose 2% to 16,557.23 points.
Despite repeated attempts to get in touch with Sun TV officials, spokespersons were unavailable for comments.
A Mumbai-based analyst, who did not want be named, said the fundamentals of the company were strong, though its shares would be volatile. In June, Sun had blamed sharp fluctuations in its share price on “baseless allegations and rumours linking the company with certain happenings relating to the 2G scam”.
The company rejected any links to the alleged wrongdoing involved in decisions relating to telecom, besides saying that Dayanidhi Maran had no role in its management.