My family has no link with any telecom company: Home Minister
The Union government on Monday denied any wrongdoing by P. Chidambaram in granting clearance to the Aircel-Maxis deal by the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) in 2006 when he was the Finance Minister.
Seeking to clear the air, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee made statements in both Houses of Parliament, dismissing allegation of any delay in the deal to favour Mr. Chidambaram's family. He said there were two separate proposals, which processed in “normal course” without any delay.
“There is no scope for any misunderstanding and misinterpretation. In both cases there was no delay in granting the approval,” he said.
An investment was made by Global Communication Services Holdings Ltd, Mauritius, to acquire 73.99 per cent equity in Aircel Ltd. on January 6, 2006. FIPB approval was granted to it on March 7, 2006 after the ministries and departments concerned took the “normal time” of 4-6 weeks to offer their comments. Another application was received on September 1, 2006 for downstream investment by Global Communications through Aircel Ltd. in Dishnet Wireless Ltd. and the final approval was granted on October 20, 2006, Mr. Mukherjee said.
Earlier, the Opposition, particularly the BJP and the AIADMK, created uproar in the Rajya Sabha while levelling allegations against Mr. Chidambaram's family.
Reacting to this, Mr. Chidambaram made an emotional speech, insisting that “no member of my family nor I have any equity at any time indirectly or directly or have any investment in any telecom company. We have no connection with any telecom company or have any share in any telecom company.”
He also downplayed the fresh charges that the e-mail and website address of Ausbridge and Advantage were the same in 2006, saying, “If they have the same website address, I am not aware. Even if they had a same website address, what is the relevance of that?”
As the Opposition refused to accept his argument that money transaction between the two companies was related to some consultancy service, he said he was ready for a probe.
Mr. Chidambaram said: “Nobody is saying that promoters of Advantage and Ausbridge do not know each other. Both are in Chennai and doing business; young people are entitled to start legitimate businesses.”
Not convinced with the reply, the Opposition disrupted the House again when it met after lunch, leading to two adjournments.
Seeking to link the controversial FIPB clearance to Aircel-Maxis with business transactions of Ausbridge, a company earlier co-owned by Mr. Chidambaram's son, BJP leader Arun Jaitley said the e-mail and web address of Ausbridge Holdings and Investments and Advantage Strategic Consulting, which was alleged to have invested in Aircel-Maxis, were the same in 2006.
As the Opposition refused to accept his argument that the money transaction between the two companies was related to some consultancy service, Mr. Chidambaram said: “If you want to look into the book of account of Advantage Consulting, I will certainly convey to the Finance Minister.”
He said he was happy that the issue was being raised by his friend of 22 years (Mr. Jaitley) and said: “... it would be much simpler if somebody took a dagger and plunged into my heart rather than questioning my integrity.”
Purity and fairness our concern, says Jaitley
But Mr. Jaitley retorted that “our concern is not to plunge a dagger in somebody's heart ... the purity and fairness of the government must be maintained.”
Mr. Chidambaram said Ausbridge was started with a capital of Rs. 2 lakh by two young persons, including his son, who had invested Rs. 1.8 lakh in it but later transferred his shares and the company was now owned by the first partner Rajesh and his wife.
Seeking to clarify that Advantage and Ausbridge had no connection in 2006, when the FIPB clearance was granted, he said Ausbridge made a passive investment of Rs. 5 lakh in Advantage only in March 2011.
“Ausbridge had no holding in Advantage in 2006, 2007 or 2008. This passive investment made in 2011 obviously has no connection” with the Aircel-Maxis deal that happened five years ago in 2006, Mr. Chidambaram said.
On allegations that Maxis had informed the stock exchange of another country that it owned almost 100 per cent in the Indian company, Mr. Chidambaram said: “According to records of the FIPB, they can hold and do hold 73.99 per cent in the Indian company.”