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

NEW DELHI

Former Finance Minister P Chidambaram was today questioned for over six hours by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) during his second round of appearance in the Aircel-Maxis money laundering case, even as he reiterated that there was no offence committed.

The senior Congress leader arrived at the ED office here shortly before 11 am and left after 5 pm, officials said.

Soon after, Chidambaram tweeted, “Another round of questions by ED in Aircel-Maxis case. I remind myself that there is no FIR and no offence is alleged.”

Officials said the investigating officer of the case recorded Chidambaram’s statement under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) today, like the last time.

Chidambaram was earlier questioned in the case on June 5 by the ED, an agency that incidentally reported to him during his tenure in the Finance Ministry.

It is understood that the agency put across a fresh set of questions to the Congress leader regarding the Aircel-Maxis deal and on decisions taken by him in connection with this case.

The agency had last time recorded his statement for six hours on various aspects. The ED had also recorded statements of FIPB officials when this deal took place and it is understood that Chidambaram was confronted with those details.

Some specific queries on circumstances and procedures adopted by the now-defunct Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) while giving approval to the Aircel-Maxis deal during his tenure were reported to have been put across to him last time, officials said.

Chidambaram’s son Karti has already been questioned by the ED in this case, twice.

After leaving the ED office on June 5, Chidambaram had tweeted that all answers he gave to the probe agency were already recorded in government documents. He had also said that there is no FIR, yet a probe had been initiated.

Chidambaram, who also served as home minister during the UPA regime, earlier had approached the court of Special Judge O P Saini seeking relief from arrest by the ED in the case.

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

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

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 Rs 600 crore and beyond that it required the approval of the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) and the case involved approval for FDI of USD 800 million (over Rs 3,500 crore).

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

The agency has said its probe revealed that the case of the said FDI was “wrongly projected as an investment of Rs 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 FIR by the CBI in the case.

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

However, the agencies maintained that the FIR in the case had not been quashed. In September last year, the ED had attached assets worth Rs 1.16 crore of Karti and a firm allegedly linked to him in connection with this case.

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