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Absconding former Finance Minister is now caught and facing court

NEW DELHI, 22 AUG. A hgih level of drama unfolded after Congress leader and India's former Finance Minister P Chidambaram, missing for over 25 hours, surfaced at the Congress headquarter in the national capital on Wednesday night.

A seven-member CBI team arrived at the party office soon after Chidambaram left for his home in Delhi's Jor Bagh area. He was accompanied by members of his legal team, consisting of top lawyers and Congress members Kapil Sibal and Abhishek Manu Singhvi, and other party leaders.

The team soon came knocking at Chidambaram's home but found the gates locked. The team then jumped over the boundary wall to enter the premises. Another team of ED officials also joined the hunt and reached on spot. After some time, Chidambaram was detained and taken away to CBI headquarters.

In his brief press conference, Chidambaram alleged political vendetta and said he was aghast on being accused of running away from law. “On the contrary I was seeking the protection of law,” he said.

Justice of India turned down the Congress leader's urgent bail plea. The matter is now likely to be taken up on Friday. The CBI and the ED also filed a caveat in the top court, asking it to hear their side before deciding on Chidambaram's plea. The Delhi High Court had also dismissed Chidambaram`s both anticipatory bail pleas in connection with INX Media case on Tuesday.

From Tuesday night till Wednesday morning, two separate teams of Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Enforcement Directorate (ED) have been trying to arrest Chidambaram and issued lookout notices.

The INX Media case relates to an FIR registered by the CBI on May 15, 2017, over alleged irregularities in the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance provided to INX Media for receiving overseas funds to the tune of Rs 305 crore in 2007, when Chidambaram was the Union Finance Minister. The ED had lodged a money laundering case in this regard in 2018.

The ED and the CBI are probing how Chidambaram`s son Karti Chidambaram managed to get FIPB clearance in 2007 when his father was the FM.

Karti was arrested on February 28, 2018, by the CBI for allegedly accepting money to facilitate the FIPB clearance to INX Media. He was later granted bail.

According to sources, the new line of investigation by ED as well as CBI will cover the FIPB approvals granted to Diageo Scotland Ltd, Katara Holdings, Essar Steel Ltd and Elforge Ltd. As in the case of Aircel Maxis and INX Media, money was allegedly put in a shell company operated by Chidambaram’s son, Karti, who was recently elected to Lok Sabha. Put together, Chidmabarams allegedly collected Rs 300 crore in bribes from companies including Aircel Maxis and INX Media.

“This is a political witchhunt and media leaks. I have nothing to do with INX or the FIPB. All my assets and liabilities are duly declared in statutory and regulatory filings,” said Karti Chidambaram in his reaction on Twitter.

However, sources in the probe agencies maintained that Karti had launched several shell companies both in India and abroad in which the kickbacks were received. The proceeds were deposited in nearly two dozen accounts in foreign banks.

The agency claimed that the deposits in the shell companies were used for meeting personal expenditure of Chidambarams and for purchasing several properties in Malaysia, UK and Spain.

The ED sources also alleged that Chidambarams owned the shell company in India which received Rs 300 crore from another shell company registered in British Virgin Islands (BVI). The two directors of the shell company, a school teacher and her husband, have already been questioned by the agency. The couple were asked to make a will where they transferred all their shares to the daughter of Karti who also served as the executor of the will.

The agency has claimed that since Chidambaram did not cooperate with the probe, withholding information which the agency eventually managed to source from foreign countries. The BVI company had also figured in the agency’s probe in the Panama papers probe in which a lot of Indian corporates have been under lens for operating shell companies and siphoning off tax evaded income.

The agency has so far filed chargesheet and prosecution complaint in the Aircel-Maxis money laundering case and attached assets worth Rs 54 crore in the INX Media case. The assets attached include land and a tennis club worth Rs 15 crore in Barcelona, Spain, several properties in UK and in India, including the Jor Bagh house of Chidambarams worth Rs 16 crore.

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