Delhi says Astro deal illegal gratification for Maxis plans, companies deny charges

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 14 — Indian police have alleged that Astro’s “highly inflated” purchase of shares in Sun Direct TV contributed RM351 million in illegal gratification to former Indian telecommunications minister Dayanidhi Maran and his brother Kalanithi.

India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) said the minister had denied telco company Aircel seven licences and other facilities, forcing its owner C. Sivasankaran to sell a 74 per cent stake to telecommunications giant Maxis.

However, The Star reported today that Maxis and Astro, both controlled by tycoon T. Ananda Krishnan (picture), sent a letter to the CBI denying the allegations.

Astro said it has had dealings with the satellite television broadcaster since 1996.

But it also said the purchase of a 20 per cent stake in Sun TV from Kalanithi was proposed in March 2005, just months before Maxis expressed its intention to acquire Aircel.

India’s The Hindu reported today that the CBI accused Dayanidhi of “abusing his official position” after deliberately causing “undue delays and denials of legitimate requests of Dishnet DSL (Aircel),” paving the way for Maxis to acquire Aircel Televentures from Sivasankaran.

“Enquiry has also revealed that Mr Dayanidhi Maran and Mr Kalanithi Maran, apart from being brothers, also have business associations for long,” the Indian newspaper quoted the CBI as saying.

The CBI said that after the “change of ownership to Maxis Communications... undue favours... were [done] for mala fide considerations.”

“An illegal gratification of Rs549,96,01,793 was accepted as a quid pro quo through his brother Kalanithi Maran in the garb of share premium invested in Sun Direct TV by South Asia Entertainment Holdings (a fully-owned subsidiary of Astro All Asia Networks Plc.),” it added.

The CBI had filed the graft case against Ananda Krishnan, his trusted executive Ralph Marshall and the Marans on October 10 but both Astro and Maxis have denied the allegations.

The Star reported today that the two companies wrote a joint letter to the CBI the day after the case was filed.

Maxis insisted its RM2.5 billion purchase of 74 per cent of Aircel from Sivasankaran was on a willing-buyer, willing seller basis and said Sivasankaran retained 26 per cent of Aircel to gain “upside benefits” should Aircel be floated.

The telecommunications giant said that Sivasankaran only complained to the CBI after his claims were dismissed by international arbitrators earlier this year, more than five years after the deal was done on December 30, 2005.

Astro told the CBI that its purchase of 20 per cent of Sun TV was a legitimate transaction between two long-standing business partners who have had dealings since 1996.


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