Unsatisfied with the replies, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Tuesday after six hours of interrogation, asked former tainted Finance Minister P Chidambaram to appear again in the Aircel-Maxis scam probe. It is learnt that to many questions Chidambaram pretended innocence and tried to put the blame on the senior Finance Ministry officials for the illegal FIPB (Foreign Investment Promotion Board) approval to the Malaysian firm Maxis to take over the Chennai based mobile phone operator Aircel. Chidambaram appeared the ED office around 11 am and left after 5 pm, said news agencies.
“I was not aware” – was the typical reply of Chidambaram when cornered with son Karti’s firms getting around two lakh dollars from Maxis. Chidambaram many times lied that he was not aware of son’s business operations. To the questions, on violation of the FIPB and Cabinet Committee of Economic Affairs (CCEA) norms, Chidambaram repeatedly said that he just signed files vetted by officers. It is learnt that many officers have given statements to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and ED that they were forced to sign on all files as per the wishes of then Finance Minister Chidambaram in 2006.
As FIPB Chairman, the Finance Minister Chidambaram had power to approve only foreign investments up to Rs.600 crores those days. Approvals of over Rs.600 crores value have to be sent to the Cabinet Committee for Economic Affairs (CCEA), where he was the Chairman. The Aircel-Maxis approval was above Rs.3500 crores and Chidambaram did not send the files to CCEA. The reasons cited for his not sending it to the CCEA, is believed to be that the Home Ministry was also part of CCEA in Telecom affairs and as Maxis’s shareholder Saudi Telecom is a partner of Pakistan Telecom, the Home Ministry won’t approve the deal.
Later the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) found that though the illegal approval was for Rs.3600 crores, the actual money that came from Maxis to Aircel was more than Rs.4800 crores! This exposed a gap of more than Rs.1200 crores. Karti’s controversial firm Advantage Consulting and Chess Management also got money from Maxis and the ED has already attached more than Rs.1.16 crores worth of bank deposits belonging to him.
When he was asked to come again, Chidambaram trotted out several excuses. Finally, the agency asked him to appear again by the end of June for further questioning.