This case relates to a 2007 decision, for foreign investment in a media company to the tune of Rupees 305 crores and 26 per cent downstream investment in a subsidiary.
In January 2008, the financial intelligence unit of the finance ministry found an anomaly in money flow from three Mauritius-based firms into a media venture called INX Media. As it involved foreign fund, the Income Tax department in Mumbai forwarded the case to the Enforcement Directorate (ED), which began probing the flow of fund to see if money was laundered.
The ED investigation pointed towards corruption involving powerful people. The ED then referred the matter to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which registered an FIR in INX Media case in May 2017. Besides this, the ED lodged a separate case of money laundering later.
The case is related to divesting of shares of INX Media to fund news channels and a 2007 decision by the finance ministry, then under P Chidambaram, who was considered the most powerful minister in the Manmohan Singh government. To many observers, Chidambaram wielded more influence in the Manmohan Singh cabinet than Pranab Mukherjee, who became the President in 2012.
INX Media was owned by media entrepreneurs Peter Mukerjea and his wife Indrani Mukerjea. Both are in a Mumbai jail for killing Sheena Bora, the daughter of Indrani Mukerjea from her ex-husband.
In March 2007, INX Media had approached the finance ministry for issuing 14.98 lakh equity shares and 31.22 lakh convertible non-cumulative redeemable preference shares. Each share was to be priced at Rs 10 a piece and was to be owned by three non-resident investors under the FDI route.
The foreign investment promotion board (FIPB) of the finance ministry approved the request in May the same year. This meant that INX Media was allowed to receive foreign fund of Rs 4.62 crore. The FIPB, however, had rejected another request by INX Media – for downstream investment of foreign fund in its subsidiary, INX News Pvt. Ltd.
The company went on to receive foreign fund to the tune of Rs 305 crore from the three Mauritius-based firms – a violation of the FIPB order. It [INX Media] also invested money in INX News, another violation of the FIPB order.
The CBI says the investment was manipulated as the foreign firms bought each share for Rs 862.31 – i.e. at a price which was more than 86 times of their face value.
After the matter was flagged by financial intelligence unit, the Income Tax department and the ED in early 2008, the FIPB sought clarification from INX Media about overpriced sale of shares and receiving foreign funds in violation of its conditions.
In response, INX Media engaged Chess Management Service Pvt. Ltd. to settle the matter “amicably” with the finance ministry. Karti Chidambaram, son of P Chidambaram, is the founder director of Chess Management Services. The CBI says Karti used his influences in his father’s ministry in 2008 to favour INX Media, and P Chidambaram was party to the overall scheme.
The CBI alleges that instead of ordering investigation into the case, the FIPB – under P Chidambaram – suggested INX Media to apply for fresh approval for the foreign fund for downstream investment already received.
The CBI backed its case with a statement from Indrani Mukerjea, who has turned approver in this matter. Indrani Mukerjea has said that INX Media got a favourable deal after she had a meeting with P Chidambaram seeking FIPB clearance in 2008.
The Chidambarams are also facing charges in another case of controversial FIPB clearance. It is related to Aircel-Maxis deal. The CBI is probing a case of corruption against Chidambaram senior for FIPB approval of Rs 3,500 crore Aircel-Maxis deal in 2006.
The CBI says such an approval could have been given only by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs but P Chidambaram okayed it in his capacity as finance minister in a quid pro quo deal. The ED is also probing money laundering angle in the Aircel-Maxis deal.