Aircel-Maxis case: ED grills Chidambaram for almost 6 hours

New Delhi: The Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Tuesday questioned former finance minister and senior Congress leader P Chidambaram for almost six hours in connection with the Aircel-Maxis money laundering case.

This is the first time that the senior Congress leader has deposed for questioning before the ED.

He arrived at the agency’s headquarter annexe office in Delhi around 10:58am accompanied by a lawyer, even as a strong contingent of police and CRPF personnel set up a security cordon at the office.

According to ED sources, Chidambaram was confronted with documentary evidences gathered by the agency pertaining to this case.

The agency had issued a fresh summon to him on Monday to appear before the investigating officer of the case to record his statement under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).

He was allowed by the agency to go out for lunch around 1:30 pm after over two hours of questioning, officials said.

Chidambaram’s role has come under the scanner in the ₹3,500 crore Aircel-Maxis deal in which the ED has already questioned his son, Karti.

PC moves court

The former finance minister, also an ex-home minister, had last week approached the court of Special Judge OP Saini seeking relief from arrest by the ED in the case.

The same court on Tuesday directed the ED not to take any coercive action or arrest him till July 10 in connection with the case.

According to media reports, the agency is likely to summon him again in connection with this case.

The ED had first asked him to appear before it on May 30 and on the same day, Chidambaram knocked on the court’s door.

The court, in its order on May 30, had noted that Chidambaram has undertaken to comply with the summons issued by the ED, while saying he apprehended his arrest by the agency.

The case

The Aircel-Maxis cases pertains to grant of Foreign Investment Promotion Board clearance to firm M/S Global Communication Holding Services Ltd in 2006 for investment in Aircel.

The Supreme Court had on March 12 directed investigating agencies – the CBI and the ED – to complete their probe into the 2G spectrum allocation cases, including the Aircel Maxis alleged money laundering case, in six months.

The agency had said that the FIPB approval in the Aircel-Maxis FDI case was granted in March 2006 by Chidambaram even though he was competent to accord approval on project proposals only up to ₹600 crore and beyond that it required the approval of the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA).

The ED is investigating “the circumstances of the FIPB approval granted (in 2006) by the then finance minister.”

“In the instant case, the approval for FDI of $800 million (over ₹3,500 crore) was sought. Hence, the CCEA was competent to grant the approval.”

“However, the approval was not obtained from the CCEA,” the ED had alleged.

The agency said its probe revealed that the case of the said FDI was “wrongly projected as an investment of ₹180 crore so that it need not be sent to the CCEA to avoid a detailed scrutiny”.

The ED is probing the Aircel-Maxis deal under the PMLA after taking cognisance of a 2011 CBI FIR in the case.

The senior Chidambaram had earlier described the ED action in this case as a “crazy mixture of falsehoods and conjectures” and said that the charge sheet filed by probe agencies had been rejected by the court.

However, the agencies have maintained that the FIR in the case has not been quashed.

In September 2017, the ED had attached assets worth ₹1.16 crore of Karti and a firm allegedly linked to him in connection with this case.

(With inputs from PTI)