Ananda Krishnan Charged with Graft over Aircel-Maxis Deal

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Among 12 charged in India over telco scandal, Ananda reportedly stood to lose all the money he poured into Aircel since 2006.

Malaysian billionaire T Ananda Krishnan and his former key aide Augustus Ralph Marshall are among a dozen people who are facing charges of bribery linked to the Aircel-Maxis scandal in India.

India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has also named former finance minister from the Congress party P Chidambaram, and his son Karti.

Chidambaram is accused of abusing his power while he led the finance ministry in March 2006 when Maxis applied to India’s Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) for approval to buy a stake in Aircel.

He approved Maxis’ Rs3,200 crore (RM1.9 billion) investment when he was only authorised to clear amounts of not more than Rs600 crore.

The CBI said the deal’s value, inclusive of premium, was Rs32 crore, which had been reflected in Maxis’ proposal, but was not reported by the FIPB.

FIPB only reported the face value of the shares at Rs1.8 billion.

This failure of disclosure prevented the deal from being referred to the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, as required by regulations.

Chidambaram was involved in the whole process and gave oral instructions on a few occasions, the CBI alleged.

“Everyone knew it was an illegal proposal, yet it was approved at the FM’s level on March 13, 2006, ” the CBI said.

Investigators also alleged that kickbacks were received by Karti through companies controlled by him.

Others charged include former economic affairs secretary Ashok Jha, former FIPB additional secretary Ashok Chawla, and Indian Administration Service (IAS) officials Sanjay Krishna and Deepak Kumar Singh.

The charge sheet was filed before special judge OP Saini, who fixed Jul 31 for hearing.

In August 2014, the CBI accused former telecom minister Dayanidhi Maran and his brother Kalanithi, Ananda, Marshall, and four companies, including Maxis Communication Bhd, of being involved in alleged kickbacks.

The Hindu

The CBI alleged that Dayanidhi had “pressured” and “forced” Chennai-based telecom promoter C Sivasankaran to sell his stake in Aircel and two subsidiary companies to Maxis Group in 2006.

Later, in a quid pro quo, Maxis allegedly invested Rs 650 crore in Sun TV network, run by the Maran brothers, the CBI said.

A court had already ruled that the evidence was not sufficient to prosecute the Maran brothers. Reportedly, prosecutors are appealing this decision at India’s Supreme Court.

However, that ruling did not have any effect on Ananda, Marshall and Maxis as the court had earlier segregated the trial against the Malaysians from that of the Indians.

Maxis, from the onset of the case, asserted that all its dealings regarding Aircel were in accordance with India’s laws.

Ananda spent some US$800 million to purchase Aircel in 2006.

Over the years, Maxis in which he owns a majority stake of 45%, was said to have made US$3.4 billion of shareholder advances to Aircel.

Bloomberg quoted people with knowledge of the matter as saying that Maxis had also bought US$1.2 billion of common stock and subscribed to US$1.6 billion of redeemable preference shares.

However, Aircel, which is 74%-owned by Maxis, filed for bankruptcy with India’s National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) in March after earlier attempts by Ananda to inject a cash infusion failed.

Aircel was said to have been negotiating with lenders since last year over a Rs15,500 crore (RM9.48 billion) debt.

In April, India’s The Economic Times reported that Ananda was able to pump in around Rs95 crore (RM56.42 million) to pay employees’ salaries at Aircel and to meet other expenses for about 1.5 years, pending appointments by the NCLT to commence the corporate insolvency resolution process.

Sources told Bloomberg that Ananda stood to lose all the money he poured into Aircel since 2006.