CBI books Karti Chidambaram in visa scam

Scene outside Karti Chidambaram’s residence in New Delhi following searches by the CBI on May 17, 2022.

Scene outside Karti Chidambaram’s residence in New Delhi following searches by the CBI on May 17, 2022. | Photo Credit: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

Special teams of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Tuesday conducted simultaneous searches on the premises of Congress MP Karti P. Chidambaram and his associates at multiple locations in the country in connection with a visa scam when his father P. Chidambaram was the Union Home Minister, a decade ago.

Congress leader and Member of Parliament for Sivaganga in the Lok Sabha, Karti Chidambaram. File

Congress leader and Member of Parliament for Sivaganga in the Lok Sabha, Karti Chidambaram. File | Photo Credit: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

The CBI registered a case against Mr. Karti, his close associate S. Bhaskar Raman, private companies based in Mumbai, Mansa (Punjab), and unknown public servants and private persons. Searches were conducted at 10 places, including in Chennai, Mumbai, Koppal (Karnataka), Jharsuguda (Odisha), Mansa and Delhi.

The CBI said that in 2011, M/s Talwandi Sabo Power Limited (TSPL) was in the process of establishing a 1980 MW thermal power plant at Mansa. The work was outsourced to a Chinese firm M/s Shandong Electric Power Construction Corporation (SEPCO).

Since the project was running behind schedule causing huge financial repercussions in terms of penalty, interest on bank loans etc, the company tried to bring in more Chinese persons/professionals to the work site for which it needed project visas over and above the ceiling imposed by the Ministry of Home Affairs.

For this purpose, the company’s representative Vikas Makharia, allegedly approached Mr. Karti’s close associate Mr. Raman and then submitted a request letter dated July 30, 2011 to the MHA (Foreigners Division) seeking permission to re-use project visas issued to the company. A few days later, he sent a copy of the letter to Mr. Raman by e-mail which the latter forwarded to Mr. Karti.

The CBI’s Investigation Officer in his report, which is part of the First Information Report, claimed that Mr. Raman, after discussion with the then Home Minister, demanded an illegal gratification of ₹50 lakh for ensuring the necessary approval.

On August 30, 2011, the company was granted permission letter for re-use of 263 project visas and the alleged bribe of ₹50 lakh was paid in cash to Mr. Raman. There were constant email communication between Mr. Makharia, Mr. Raman and Mr. Karti. Mr. Makharia also sent an email to Mr. Karti attaching a copy of the permission letter and thanked him.

The CBI said project visas were introduced in October 2010 as a new type of visa for power and steel sectors only. Detailed guidelines were issued in a circular with the approval of Mr. Chidambaram, the then Home Minister. It was made clear in the circular there was no provision for re-use of project visas. However, deviation in rare and exceptional cases could be considered and granted only with the approval of the Home Secretary.

The FIR noted that in view of the above circumstances, the deviation in terms of re-use of project visas was likely to have been approved by the then Home Minister, Government of India. “There is reason to believe that the then Home Secretary and Home Minister were in the knowledge of the matter of M/s TSPL, and work of M/s TSPL was done through them but it is not ascertained at this stage whether P. Chidambaram, the then Home Minister, and the then Home Secretary were in the knowledge of the demand and payment of illegal gratification or not,” the FIR said.

Citing a past case, the investigative agency said Mr. Chidambaram was on the board of Vedanta Group whereas his son had taken financial favour from M/s Sterlite Optical Technologies Ltd, Mumbai, (a Vedanta Group company) which lent ₹1.5 crore in November 2003 to his company in Chennai and the interest thereupon was waived the next year when Mr. Chidambaram was sworn in as the Union Finance Minister.

The agency also alleged that Mr. Karti and Mr. Raman had indulged in collection of undue payments for settling the issues pending with the offices in various Ministries, under the influence of Mr. Chidambaram.

The CBI operation comes at a time when Mr. Chidambaram’s tenure comes to an end in the Rajya Sabha and he is believed to be a frontrunner to be re-nominated to the upper house from Tamil Nadu where the ruling DMK has allotted one seat to the Congress, its alliance partner.

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Printable version | May 17, 2022 8:55:30 pm |