Chidambaram case ‘bribe’ so far: Rs 10 lakh
The CBI has so far found that a princely sum of around Rs 9.96 lakh has been paid as a bribe in the INX Media case in which former finance minister P. Chidambaram is an accused.
The startling revelation, considering the sizes of bribes in the age of scams have been running into head-spinning figures, has been made in the chargesheet filed by the CBI on Friday against 14 people, including Chidambaram, his son Karti and some bureaucrats.
“The Mumbai-based media company had also made an alleged payment of Rs 9.96 lakh (approx) into the account of the said front company (a consulting company) as illegal payoff without delivering any service,” the CBI said in a statement that announced the filing of the chargesheet in a Delhi court.
The “media company” is INX Media while the consulting company is alleged to have been floated by Karti.
The CBI also spoke of bribes paid through offshore payments. PTI quoted CBI sources as saying that $5 million was paid as offshore bribes. But the agency’s official statement mentioned no bribe figure other than the Rs 9.96 lakh. It is not clear whether the full chargesheet refers to any other bribe amount.
The CBI statement said letters “have been sent to Singapore, Mauritius, Bermuda, the UK and Switzerland to investigate the alleged offshore payments. Further investigation is continuing.”
The probe is still going on and the CBI itself has underlined in the statement that “the accused are presumed to be innocent till their guilt is finally established after a fair trial”.
But Chidambaram has already spent nearly two months in incarceration. On Friday, senior advocate Kapil Sibal told the Supreme Court, which is hearing Chidambaram’s bail plea, that “during his 43 days in jail, he had suffered two bouts of illness for five and seven days, respectively, and was administered antibiotics”. Chidambaram’s weight has dropped from 73.5kg to 68.5kg, Sibal said.
The CBI said people accused of financial fraud were a flight risk. The top court has reserved its order on the bail plea.
The chargesheet was filed in a special court just a couple of days before the mandatory 60-day period to do so, from the day of Chidambaram’s arrest, would have expired on October 20. Had the chargesheet not been filed on Friday, Chidambaram would have been entitled to “default bail” under the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC).
According to the chargesheet, the basic allegation is that INX had received foreign investments of Rs 403.07 crore against an approved sum of Rs 4.62 crore when Chidambaram was finance minister.
The media company had also illegally invested Rs 40.91 crore in a sister concern from the FDI received without approval from the Foreign Investment Promotion Board, according to the CBI.
In the Supreme Court, opposing the bail plea, the CBI said that a person “reasonably in the know of things” and whose identity has been withheld even in the chargesheet forms a crucial basis of the INX Media corruption case.
Belying the belief that Indrani Mukerjea’s statement was the basis of Chidambaram’s prosecution in the case, the CBI said the “mysterious person” had claimed that he was being “influenced” and “intimidated” by the senior Congress leader when not under arrest.
“We do not wish to disclose his identity even in the chargesheet,” solicitor-general Tushar Mehta, appearing for the CBI, told a bench headed by Justice R. Banumathi.
The others named in the chargesheet include former and current bureaucrats such as Sindhushree Khullar (former Niti Aayog CEO and then additional secretary, department of economic affairs), Prabodh Saxena (then director, FIPB unit, finance ministry), Rabindra Prasad (then undersecretary, FIPB unit), Ajit Kumar Dungdung (then section officer, FIPB unit), P.K. Bagga (then OSD, department of economic affairs) and Anoop K. Pujari (then joint secretary, foreign trade, department of economic offence), besides Peter Mukerjea.
The name of Indrani Mukerjea, who has turned approver, appears on the list but she has not been booked under any charges.