Even as it battles charges of corruption, the Manmohan Singh Government faced some tough questions on Monday about the alleged involvement of Textile Minister Dayanidhi Maran in the 2G spectrum scam when he held the telecom portfolio in UPA-I.
Troubles mounted both for UPA and Maran, after former Aircel promoter Sivasankaran on Monday told the CBI that the Department of Telecom and its former boss Dayanidhi Maran allegedly arm-twisted him to sell his stakes in the telecom firm to Malaysian firm, Maxis. Maran, however, denied all the allegations.
The CBI recorded Sivasankaran’s statement in connection with its ongoing probe into possible irregularities in the 2G spectrum allocation during UPA-I regime. The NRI businessman’s statement put the allegations against Maran on record and may form the basis of an FIR against Maran when the agency decides to do so.
CBI sources said Sivasankaran voluntarily came to the CBI headquarters here on Monday morning to clarify certain issues and the series of events leading to alleged irregularities in the award of spectrum allocation to Aircel, a telecom firm founded by him.
However, the CBI refused to confirm the development.
While speaking on the Maran issue, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said these matters are being looked into by the law enforcement agencies and they should be allowed to work without fear or favour.
Sivasankaran alleged that he was forced by DMK MP and Textile Minister Dayanidhi Maran to sell his 74 per cent stake in Aircel to Maxis whose owner T Ananda Krishna is considered close to the Maran family. After Aircel’s stake sale to Maxis, the latter allegedly invested about Rs 600 crore in Sun TV owned by Kalanidhi Maran.
Sivasankaran also alleged his applications for licences were rejected when Maran was the Telecom Minister in 2006, forcing him to sell his stake to Maxis.
Maran is alleged to have granted 14 licences to Dishnet Wireless (Aircel) during his tenure as the Telecom Minister.
CBI registered a Preliminary Enquiry to look into the irregularities in the award of the 2G licences between 2001 and 2007 and is probing financial transactions of Sun TV and Maxis. Besides, it is also looking into various aspects of the takeover of Aircel by Maxis group, the sources said.
The PE was registered against “unknown persons” following a Supreme Court directive to detect any alleged anomaly in ‘first-come-first-serve’ criterion adopted for granting spectrum and licenses from 2001 to 07.
The statement was recorded as part of the PE which does not have any legal sanction but the statement will become one of the bases for registering a Regular Case as and when the CBI decides to register a case, the sources said.
Maxis has 74 per cent stake in Aircel which has presence in all the telecom circles at the pan India level.
Meanwhile, in a short interaction with the media at his Chennai residence, Maran brandished newspaper clippings to prove that Aircel was already up for sale before he had become the Telecom Minister.
Flaying Sivasankaran’s charge that he had arm-twisted him into selling Aircel, Maran wanted to know why Sivasankaran did not approach the courts for justice then.
“Let me tell you, Mr Sivasankaran is not just a millionaire, he is a multi billionaire. No one can force anyone to sell his company. He could have approached the courts for remedy,” said an angry Maran and went on to deny that he had tried to prevail on him.
Maran said that he was innocent and would prove it with details. He said he became Communications and IT Minister on May 26, 2004 and Aircel was up for sale in April 2004. He said that Sivasankaran was already in talks with suitors to buy Aircel by then.
When prodded by reporters for more details, Maran said that this had happened seven years ago and he needed time to familiarise himself with the facts before giving further details: “I am not going to respond to any speculation. I want to get facts right before I speak as this matter is pertaining to last seven to eight years.”
“The paper cuttings clearly prove that this particular company was parading itself much before I became a telecom minister. I have never had to force anyone to sell the business,” Maran said.
Meanwhile, the National Federation of Telecom Employees of the BSNL Chennai Circle held a demonstration on Monday demanding that the Prime Minister sack Maran for his alleged involvement in laying telephone cables when he was the Telecom Minister that were allegedly used by Sun TV group, owned by Maran’s elder brother Kalanidhi Maran.