Indian minister faces questions over Maxis-Aircel affair
KUALA LUMPUR, May 21 — India’s Home Minister P. Chidambaram is now under pressure from the country’s opposition over questions arising from the unfolding probe into the alleged favourable treatment received by Maxis in the acquisition of its Indian subsidiary Aircel, The Hindu has reported.
This comes after Maxis was accused late last year of providing “illegal gratification” to India’s former Telecommunications Minister Dayanidhi Maran by paying “highly inflated” prices for shares in Sun Direct TV held by the former minister’s brother in exchange for assistance with the takeover of Aircel.
The leading English-language newspaper said in a report this week that opposition leader Arun Jaitley had claimed Chidambaram’s son, Karti, had a stake in Ausbridge Holdings and Investments and the e-mail and web address of Ausbridge and Advantage Strategic Consulting, which has shareholding in Maxis-Aircel, were the same.
Chidambaram (picture) has denied the allegation.
The Hindu said that the opposition’s attack had also reopened lingering questions about Chidambaram’s own conduct as finance minister in 2006-07, during the period of the Maxis takeover of Aircel.
The report said that records show that the Finance Ministry under Chidambaram maintained a temporary silence on the issue of spectrum pricing being dropped but once Aircel had secured its licences and became a pan-India operator and initial approvals were in place for the Maxis deal, the Finance Ministry suddenly went back to arguing that spectrum pricing be included in the ToRs (Terms of References) of the GoM (Group of Ministers) on spectrum.
A GoM is panel of ministers formed by the Indian government to look into specific issues.
The report noted that when the deal was being hammered out, Dayanidhi approached the prime minister to ask for additional spectrum and sought to remove spectrum pricing from the ToRs, and there was apparently no evidence of any resistance from Chidambaram, who was responsible for protecting treasury revenue as then finance minister.
It also said that after the Maxis-Sun TV transactions were initiated and approvals received, the Finance Ministry suddenly started pushing for the re-inclusion of spectrum pricing in the ToRs of the GoM on spectrum.
Spectrum is a valuable resource and can typically fetch hefty sums if tendered out by the government.
“Why did Mr Chidambaram, as the Finance Minister and a Member of the GoM, not protest when spectrum pricing was being dropped from the ToRs in 2006? Is there any letter or evidence that he did?” asked The Hindu.
It also suggested that an investigation be initiated on Maxis’ announcement that it made 99.3 per cent economic returns from its investment in Aircel.
It was earlier reported that India’s Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) had filed a case against Dayanidhi, his brother Kalanithi, Maxis Communication chairman T. Ananda Krishnan and Astro chief Ralph Marshall in connection with the controversial Aircel-Maxis deal, alleging that Dayanidhi had received kickbacks from Maxis.
Both the Marans and Maxis have denied any wrongdoing.