Home >politics >policy >CBI files chargesheet against Maran brothers in Aircel-Maxis case

New Delhi: The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Friday pressed charges of graft and criminal misconduct against former communications minister Dayanidhi Maran, his brother Kalanithi Maran, chairman and managing director of Sun Group, and several others in the Aircel-Maxis case.

The chargesheet, filed in the CBI special court hearing the 2G spectrum allocation case, names nine accused, also including Malaysian tycoon T. Ananda Krishnan and Augustus Ralph Marshall, a director in many of Krishnan’s companies.

CBI named four companies among the nine—Malaysia-based Maxis Communications Bhd, Chennai-based Sun Direct TV Pvt. Ltd, UK-based Astro All Asia Networks Plc and Mauritius-based South Asia Entertainment Holdings Ltd—in its chargesheet.

The Aircel-Maxis case involves allegations of irregularities by Dayanidhi Maran when he was communications minister between 2004 and 2007. Maran allegedly stalled approvals needed by telecom services provider Aircel Ltd, and forced C. Sivasankaran, then owner of the telecom firm, to sell his company to Malaysia-based Maxis Communications, owned by Ananda Krishnan.

In return, Krishnan’s group company invested around 629 crore in the Sun Group, owned by Maran’s brother Kalanithi. Once Sivasankaran sold his stake, it is alleged, Aircel almost immediately got all necessary approvals from the government.

“Investigation(s) revealed that Dayanidhi Maran, the then communications minister, in abuse of official position constricted the business environment of Aircel Televentures Ltd on frivolous grounds with the intent to force its exit from telecom business and its sale to Maxis Communications Berhad, Malaysia," CBI said in its chargesheet, parts of which were reviewed by Mint.

“After the change of ownership, the requests or approvals pending since long with the department of telecommunications were acceded to and undue favour was given to these companies after such transfer for which alleged illegal gratification was paid by Astro All Asia Networks Plc to Sun Direct TV of Kalanithi Maran, in the garb of purchase of shares at a premium of 69.57 for a 10 share through its subsidiary South Asia Entertainment Holdings Ltd."

The anti-corruption court will hopefully begin the trial if it finds merit in the chargesheet, a legal expert said.

“At a macro level, it does indicate that India is serious about corruption," said Rahul Singh, who teaches at National Law School of India University, Bangalore. “Especially in light of the Supreme Court taking a strict stand in the coal allocation case, it is indicative that corruption is a serious concern."

The accused have been charged under section 120B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, sections 7 (public servant taking gratification other than legal remuneration in respect of an official act), 12 (punishment for abetment of offences defined in section 7) and 13(1)(d) (criminal misconduct by a public servant for using illegal/corrupt means, or abusing his position) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988.

There is also enough evidence against former telecom secretary and Telecom Regulatory Authority of India chairman J.S. Sarma, who died in March, an official of the agency said, requesting anonymity.

Both Maxis and Aircel did not respond to queries by Mint.

Special judge O.P. Saini allowed CBI till 11 September, when the case next comes up for hearing, to complete its submission following a request by CBI senior public prosecutor K.K. Goel.

For Krishnan and Marshall, both Malaysian nationals, to stand trial if the chargesheet is accepted, the special court judge is expected to ask Malaysia for cooperation through a mutual legal assistance treaty.

There were two money trails in the case, said the CBI official cited earlier. The first involved money moving from Maxis to Aircel via Mauritius-based Global Communication Services Holdings Ltd. The second trail is between Astro to the promoters of Sun Group via South Asia Entertainment Holdings, he said.

There is also a secondary case that CBI is investigating involving minority shareholders of Aircel, Sindya Securities and Investments Pvt. Ltd. Sindya is an investment company promoted by P. Dwarakanath Reddy and Suneeta Reddy of the Reddy family that controls Apollo Hospitals.

There are some irregularities in the role of Sindya, which holds 26% in Aircel, the CBI official said. Maxis holds the remaining 74% in Aircel.

“The aspect of the irregularity in grant of FIPB (Foreign Investment Promotion Board) approval to Global Communications Services Holdings Ltd and the role of the Indian partner, Sindya Securities and Investments Pvt Ltd, in holding 26% equity of Aircel is being further investigated," the chargesheet said.

Other aspects of the case relate to a failed attempt by Sivasankaran, the original owner of Aircel, to sell his company to Hutchison Essar Ltd-owned Aircel Digilink. Aircel Digilink was acquired by Hutchison Essar in 2003 for its operations in Rajasthan, Haryana and eastern Uttar Pradesh.

Earlier this week, non-profit Centre for Public Interest Litigation submitted an application to the Supreme Court, which is overseeing the 2G case, accusing CBI director Ranjit Sinha of protecting many of the accused in the 2G scandal.

On Thursday, Dayanidhi Maran unsuccessfully petitioned the apex court against CBI prosecuting him in the case.

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