Saturday, May 22, 2010

More Murky Twists to Raja Tale



[Arun Dalmia (extreme right), arrested by CBI along with Chief Postmaster General MS Bali for accepting a Rs 2-crore bribe from a builder, is seen with Telecom Minister A Raja on his birthday on October 26, 2008, at his official residence in New Delhi]

In February this year, the CBI probe unit handling the spectrum scam laid its hands on highly incriminating evidence that indicated transfer of scam money to secret accounts in Switzerland and other countries, but under political pressure the ‘lead' has been conveniently buried.

The CBI stumbled upon damning evidence of money transfer in the spectrum case while probing the arrest of Maharashtra and Goa Chief Postmaster General (CPMG) MS Bali for accepting a bribe of Rs 2 crore from a builder for issuing a No-Objection Certificate (NoC) for granting construction permission on postal land at a prime spot in Mumbai.

Bali was caught red-handed in a Mumbai hotel late on February 24 along with Arun Dalmia, a frequent visitor to Telecom Minister A Raja's office and residence for five years. Dalmia's son Harsh was also arrested from the spot.

During interrogation, Dalmia told the sleuths about his two Swiss accounts and property details and high-volume cash transactions flowing into bank accounts in Delhi, Chennai, Singapore, Dubai, Malaysia and other tax havens abroad. Dalmia was for years on the
radar of the Intelligence Bureau and RAW, who had informed the CBI that this middle-aged man was a broker for a Chinese telecom equipment vendor. Raja's plan to grant an over Rs 20,000-crore deal to a Chinese telecom vendor for supplying GSM lines to BSNL was thwarted by the security concerns raised by these agencies.

Sources said the CBI suspected a link between the spectrum scam and the arrest of the duo when it learnt that Raja's private secretary RK Chandolia had asked Bali to visit the hotel and collect the bribe from the builder. "When Dalmia told us about their Swiss bank
accounts and hawala transactions, we knew we had laid our hands on a high-value catch," said a Central Bureau of Investigation officer. Chandolia was elevated to the post of economic adviser in the Department of Telecom by Raja and his role in the spectrum scam and money transfer was already being probed by the CBI.

According to sources close to Bali, the CPMG spilled the beans on the very first night of interrogation. Confirming this, a CBI officer told The Pioneer: "Bali told us that he got a call from Chandolia around 6 pm to go to the hotel along with Dalmia and collect the
money."

But, shockingly, the role of Chandolia in fixing the deal never came up in the statements recorded by the CBI. "Bali became a scapegoat," sources said, adding that senior Dalmia also confirmed the role of Raja's office in fixing this deal.

After the CBI's Mumbai unit alerted its Delhi counterparts the following day about the confession made by Bali and Dalmia and the possible link between the spectrum scam and Bali, a CBI team airdashed to Mumbai to interrogate the duo.

"But when we reached Delhi, our bosses got instructions from ‘highest authorities' to delink the Mumbai case from our ongoing investigation. The Mumbai unit also got instruction to limit the case to Bali and Dalmias," said a CBI official, adding that they were denied permission to verify the transaction details of the two Swiss accounts of the Dalmias.

According to Ministry insiders, Dalmia could be a key player in the spectrum scam. He arrived in early 2005 in Raja's office in Paryavaran Bhavan, when the latter was Environment Minister. Dalmia was accompanied by two young women and his visiting card showed him to be the Honorary Consular General of a little-known African country, Ministry sources said. "We checked with the External Affairs Ministry and found that he was a fraud. But, in the meantime, he established direct contact with the Minister," insiders said.

Sources recalled that Dalmia was always escorted by young women whom he introduced as his secretaries. His fortunes shone when Raja became the Communications and IT Minister. Dalmia became the liaison man for a Chinese telecom giant in India, which had a significant presence in the southern and western regions of the country. He operated a slew of financial consultancy services across India and tax havens abroad.

The CBI team found concrete evidence, including photographs, to establish the Minister's close link with Dalmia in the two-day-long searches at his house. Finding evidence of several high-volume foreign transactions, the Central Bureau of Investigation brought the
matter to the notice of the Enforcement Directorate, but to date no progress has been made in the case.

"We were told to stay away from Raja and his men," a senior agency official maintained.

[The writer is Special Correspondent of ‘The Pioneer’ daily. The report published on the newspaper on May 3, 2010]

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