New Delhi: The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Thursday said it has registered a case against Pradip Baijal, former secretary of disinvestment and several others, on allegations in the matter of sale of Laxmi Vilas Palace Hotel in Udaipur, which is a unit of Indian Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC). The hotel was sold “at much below the prescribed rates, resulting into huge monetary loss" to the government.
Apart from Baijal, the CBI has also named Ashish Guha, then managing director of Lazard India Ltd, Kantilal Karamsey Vikamsey, proprietor of Kanti Karamsey & Co, a representative of Bharat Hotel Ltd and unknown government officers and other private persons, a CBI official said, requesting anonymity.
After his retirement from the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), Baijal became the chief of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai).
While Lazard was a New Delhi-based financial advisor to the disinvestment ministry in the Atal Behari Vajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, Kanti Karamsey & Co is a Mumbai-based valuer, which, according to the CBI official, was “not government approved".
During the Vajpayee government, the disinvestment ministry was headed by Arun Shourie. The CBI official said that while Shourie was questioned sometime last year, he has not been named in the first information report (FIR).
Baijal said over the phone that he had heard about his name appearing in the FIR from media reports and that no one from the CBI had approached him. “The valuation of the hotel arrived at on the basis of reports given by valuers, investment bankers and the ITDC. They valued it at Rs7 crore, and so we sold it at that," he said.
Vikamsey said over the phone that he had been called to Jodhpur by the CBI a couple of months back for questioning. “We explained to them the technicalities of how the valuation was done. It is incorrect if they say that we were not government approved," he said.
Shourie and a spokesperson for Bharat Hotels could not be immediately reached for comment, despite several attempts.
In its FIR, the CBI has said that in 2001-02, Laxmi Vilas Palace Hotel in Udaipur, a heritage hotel and one of the units of state-owned ITDC, “was first drastically undervalued and then sold/disinvested to" Bharat Hotel Ltd for approximately Rs7.52 crores.
The CBI has said that while the government’s own valuation of the hotel was Rs151 crore, the market value during that period stood at Rs280 crore.