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Congress MP Karti Chidambaram took bribe of Rs 50 lakhs to “facilitate” illegal visas: CBI

The Central Bureau of Investigation has alleged Congress MP Karti Chidambaram received an ‘illegal gratification of Rs 50 lakh to illegally facilitate visas for 263 Chinese nationals’ to complete a power project in Punjab, in a first information report.

Karti ‘misused his influence’ in the home ministry in 2011 and ‘conspired’ with co-accused to devise a “back-door way to defeat the purpose of ceiling” on work permits imposed by the ministry, CBI has alleged. Karti’s father and senior Congress leader P Chidambaram was home minister in 2011. P Chidambaram has not been named as an accused in the FIR.

Besides Karti four others have been booked. The four co-accused are: Karti’s chartered accountant S Bhaskararaman; Vikas Makharia, representative of Talwandi Sabo

, a Mansa-based private company, and Bell Tools, Mumbai, have been named. The FIR also mentions “unknown public servants and private individuals” too.

In its FIR, the CBI has said that “there is reason to believe that the then Home Secretary and Home Minister were in the knowledge of the matter of M/s Talwandi Sabo Power Limited (TSPL) and work of M/s TSPL was done through them but it is not ascertained at this stage whether P Chidambaram, the then Home Minister and the then Home Secretary were in the knowledge of the afore-said demand and payment of illegal gratification or not”.

The FIR adds that “information exists that P Chidambaram had been on the board of Vedanta Group whereas his son Karti Chidambara had taken financial favour from M/s Sterlite Optical Technologies Limited, Mumbai (a

Group company), which had lent Rs 1.5 crore in November, 2003 to his company namely M/s Meltraack India Limited, Chennai and the interest thereupon was waived off in August 2014) when Chidambaram was sworn as the Finance Minister).

The CBI carried out multiple searches in 10 places, including Chennai, Mumbai, Koppal (Karnataka), Jharsuguda (Odisha) Mansa (Punjab) and Delhi on Tuesday, in connection with the case. The places searched included Chidambaram’s official residence in Delhi and Chennai.

“I have lost count; how many times has it been? Must be a record,” tweeted Karti. “This morning, a CBI team searched my residence at Chennai and my official residence at Delhi. The team showed me an FIR in which I am not named as an accused. The search team found nothing and seized nothing. I may point out that the timing of the search is interesting,” tweeted P Chidambaram.

Talwandi Sabo Power, a subsidiary of Vedanta group, was in the process of establishing a 1980 MW thermal power plant at Mansa, which was outsourced to a Chinese company, CBI’s FIR said. The Vedanta group had previously denied knowledge of any controversy in the deal. It had said that it diligently followed corporate governance practices.

CBI alleged that to avoid penal actions for the project running behind schedule, Talwandi Sabo Ltd tried to recruit more Chinese professionals. It needed project visas above the ceiling imposed by the home ministry, it alleged. Talwandi’s Vikas Makharia approached Karti Chidambaram through S Bhaskararaman, Karti’s alleged associate, for the purpose, CBI alleged.

They, thereafter ‘devised a back-door way to defeat the visa ceiling’ by granting permission to re-use 263 project visas allotted to the Chinese company’s officials, the CBI alleged. Makharia submitted a letter to the home ministry, seeking approval to re-use project visas allotted to the company, which was approved in a month and permission issued to the company, it alleged. Talwandi Sabo paid Karti Chidambaram, through Bhaskararaman, a bribe of Rs 50 lakh, CBI alleged in its FIR. The ‘bribe was routed to Karti and Bhaskararaman through Bell Tools, a Mumbai based company as “payment of false invoice raised for consultancy and out of pocket expenses for Chinese visas related works,” CBI alleged. According to CBI insiders, Karti Chidambaram is likely to be questioned. The Enforcement Directorate probing money laundering will examine the FIR and is likely to register a fresh case against Karti and others under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.

Sources also indicated that the alleged role of P Chidambaram will also be examined during the investigation. Also, the alleged involvement of the then Home Secretary will also be investigated.

The FIR says that as per guidelines issued by the Home Ministry with the approval of the then Home Minister P Chiambaram there was no provision for re-use of project visas. The FIR adds “as per prevalent guidelines, deviation in rare and exceptional cases could be considered and granted only with the approval of Home Secretary. However, in view of the above circumstances, the deviation in terms of re-use of project visas is likely to be approved by the then Home Minister”.

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