New Delhi: The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the income tax (I-T) department separately carried out raids in Chennai, Delhi, and Gurugram, targeting the children of former Union ministers P. Chidambaram of the Congress and Lalu Prasad of the Rashtriya Janata Dal.
The raids, which raise the spectre of political corruption (or a political witch-hunt, depending on which side one is listening to) come exactly three years after the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance’s sweeping victory in the parliamentary elections on a pro-development and anti-corruption platform.
While CBI raided 14 properties connected to former finance minister Chidambaram’s son Karti Chidambaram in Chennai, the I-T department raided 22 premises in Delhi and Gurugram in connection with benami land deals and tax evasion to the tune of Rs1,000 crore allegedly made by former Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad’s sons and daughter.
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“The government, using the CBI and other agencies, is targeting my son and his friends. The government’s aim is to silence my voice...," Chidambaram said in a statement.
Power minister Piyush Goyal rejected allegations of political vendetta levelled by both Prasad and Chidambaram. “The BJP government never comes in the way of the law and investigation agencies work independently," he added.
CBI confirmed that the raids in Chennai were related to INX Media, formerly owned by Peter and Indrani Mukerjea. The agency alleged that Karti received kickbacks from this company when his father was the finance minister. This was in return for his help in allegedly getting the finance ministry to overlook irregularities. Specifically, INX Media crossed the approved limit of foreign direct investment (FDI) by several hundred crores and “made a downstream investment to the tune of 26% of its capital", according to Vineet Vinayak, joint director of CBI. He added that it brought in Rs305 crore as FDI, as opposed to the approved FDI of Rs4.62 crore. When asked to explain this by the Foreign Investment Promotion Board, the company sought Karti’s help, according to CBI.
ALSO READ: Income tax raids in Delhi, NCR in benami land deal case linked to Lalu Prasad
Vinayak claimed INX paid Rs3.5 crore to companies in which Karti had a stake.
The I-T department raids come after some BJP leaders alleged last week that Lalu Prasad’s daughter Misa Bharti and his two sons were involved in benami land deals to the tune of Rs1,000 crore.
On 12 May, Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad demanded that the centre probe the alleged land deals. He alleged that Bharti, a Rajya Sabha MP, had failed to disclose these assets in her election affidavit and demanded that the Election Commission take action against her. The Union minister said the land deals dated back to the time when Lalu Prasad was the Union railway minister in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government and also urged Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar to initiate a probe in the matter.
On Monday, the tax department said it was probing several businessmen and real estate agents as well in connection with the deals.
The UPA government was embroiled in several corruption scandals—something the NDA used to good effect in the run-up to the 2014 general elections, and which it continues to highlight even today.
“In its three years in power, the BJP has given an honest, scam-free government, a decisive leader and pro-poor thrust on governance," said power minister Goyal.
The NDA continued its effort to target black money (unaccounted money on which tax has not been paid) with the launch of a Clean Money website on Tuesday, where people whose investments and purchases are not in sync with their tax filings can come clean (or offer explanations).
Gyan Verma contributed to this story.