The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has stepped up its scrutiny of the Aircel-Maxis deal. The agency has questioned key company officials and government representatives connected with the case.
DMK member of Parliament and former minister in the UPA government, Dayanidhi Maran, was questioned by the CBI for several hours on Wednesday over irregularities in the allocation of telecom spectrum allocation and his linkages with the Aircel-Maxis deal.
Maran, who was the telecom minister when the Aircel-Maxis deal took place, had to resign as textile minister in July for his alleged role in the case. During the questioning by the CBI on Wednesday, Maran denied any role in the Aircel-Maxis deal.
The former minister's brother and promoter of the Sun TV network, Kalanithi Maran, is learnt to have been questioned by the CBI earlier this week. A CBI official said others who were questioned in the Aircel-Maxis case included Suneeta Reddy, daughter of Apollo Group promoter Prathap Reddy, and Ralph Marshall, chief executive of Astro, which invested in Sun TV. Marshall is also a board member of Maxis.
In July, Stanchart's Prahlad Shantigram had come from Singapore to India meet CBI officials. Stanchart had advised Maxis on the deal, and Shantigram was Stanchart's investment banking head, based in Mumbai at that time.
The investigative agency is also likely to question Malaysian businessman T Ananda Krishnan. Maxis is part of Krishnan's business empire.
Maxis had bought 74 per cent stake in telecom company Aircel in March 2006. Sindya Securities & Investments Pvt Ltd, owned by Suneeta Reddy and her husband P Dwarakanath Reddy, owns the remaining 26 per cent.
At the centre of the probe is a statement by Aircel founder C Sivasankaran, recorded in June by the CBI. According to the statement, he was coerced by Dayanidhi Maran—when he was the telecom minister (2004-2007)—to sell out to Maxis. Maxis had paid $800 million for the deal.
The CBI is trying to find out if there was a case of quid pro quo involved. Ananda Krishnan and the Maran family have known each other for long, it is believed. Aircel, denied a pan-India telecom licence earlier, was able to enter all circles after the Maxis takeover, Sivasankaran had told the CBI.
The investigations are also focusing on the fact that following the deal, Astro, a part of Ananda Krishnan's media-telecom empire, announced a $160-million investment in Sun Direct for a 20 per cent stake. Last year, Astro had raised its stake in Sun Direct to 35 per cent. Sun Direct is the direct-to-home arm of the Sun group, promoted by Kalanithi Maran, the brother of Dayanidhi Maran.
The CBI has told the Supreme Court that it would complete the preliminary inquiry into the Aircel-Maxis case by September 30.