Tuesday, October 22, 2013

JPC probe on 2G Scam: The absurd political theatre


J Gopikrishnan - October 17, 2013 – The Pioneer OpEd

As expected, the Congress-dominated Joint Parliamentary Committee has given a report on the 2G Spectrum scam that clears Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Union Minister for Finance P Chidambaram, and puts all the blame on former Minister of Communication and Information Technology A Raja. This dubious report, prepared without summoning the trio by the JPC headed by PC Chacko, is among the darkest chapters in India’s parliamentary system. The Congress has once again shown its arrogance and disrespect to Parliament by achieving its dubious designs through a majority of votes, with the help of its bargainable and perennial supporters like the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party. Mr Chacko had no qualm in accepting the Congress spokesperson’s post during his stint as JPC Chairman. His role and job was to provide an escape route to the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister.

But the worst was the performance of the two JD(U) Members of Parliament in the JPC. They were absent during the final voting to adopt the report. These MPs had a few months back rejected the findings of Mr Chacko-led JPC and signed on a memorandum along with BJP members of the panel for the dismissal of Mr Chacko. One of them, Mr Sharad Yadav, had been vocal in Parliament for the past five years on the 2G Spectrum scam. Due to his party’s new political line, he and his party colleague had to play the abstaining drama, facilitating the Congress to get a walkover.

The scam basically happened during Raja’s period. But the Congress cleverly argued for a probe into telecom deals from 2000 in a bid to catch the BJP off guard. Then it further went back to the period from 1997. This has been the Congress’s strategy when it has been hit by scams. The same strategy was adopted in the coal block allocation irregularity; the party-led Government extended the probe to 1994.

The saddest part is that the JPC had been used as a tool to bully then Comptroller and Auditor-General Vinod Rai. The Congress was showing its wrath on him for exposing its Government’s corruption. Mr Rai was summoned five times and literally ragged by members of the Congress. All anger on Mr Rai was over the calculation of the huge presumptive loss — ranging from Rs 45,000 crore to Rs 1.76 lakh crore. The CAG’s findings were ratified by the Supreme Court in several orders and judgements, including in the cancellation of tainted 122 licences.

The Department of Telecommunications, which parroted now Telecommunications Minister Kapil Sibal’s infamous ‘zero loss’ theory, thought nothing of writing to the JPC about the alleged Rs 42,000 crore loss during the NDA regime. The JPC was used as a tool promote this fictitious calculation in a bid to indict  former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

After all, the theory of loss of more than Rs 42,000 crore is a laughable one. In those days, a mobile phone user had to pay a monthly rental charge of Rs 500. That means, Rs 6000 were paid annually for holding a mobile phone. In 1999, considering  worldwide practices, the Government decided to waive this fee. After 13 years Mr Sibal says this decision led to a huge loss. The Congress-dominated JPC wants us to believe the tainted Telecom Department, but not the findings of the CAG.

Moreover, Mr Vajpayee’s name was added in the list of witnesses to be summoned. These attempts were  nothing but part of the dirty tricks department of the Congress. Mr Chacko now says that Mr Vajpayee’s name was inadvertently figured in the list. What an explanation!

When  Opposition MPs demanded the summoning of Mr Chidambaram, it the JPC went for a vote, knowing it had a majority. According to the judgement of the 2G Special Court, Mr Chidambaram and Raja were party to two decisions. First, fixing the price of the spectrum at dirt cheap price, and second, offloading of shares of tainted companies to multinationals at exorbitant prices. Raja became an accused primarily for these two reasons.

However, the courts said later that petitioner Subramanian Swamy did not prove the criminality of Mr Chidambaram. Is it the duty of Mr Swamy to find the criminality of Mr Chidambaram? Anyway, the courts did not ask the Central Bureau of Investigation to treat Mr Chidambaram like Raja.

Whatever the fans and cronies of Mr Chidambaram argue, the fact is that he is politically, administratively and morally responsible for  the sins charged on Raja.

The JPC did not touch the subject of the Aircel-Maxis scam, which is an open and shut case for fixing the fate of Mr Chidambaram and Mr Dayanidhi Maran. This dubious deal was approved by Mr Chidambaram, by violating all norms. The deal, worth more than Rs 4,000 crore, had no mandatory Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs approval. Maxis acquired almost 100 per cent shares in Aircel, while the rules permits a maximum of 74 per cent. There was a huge variation in the sale of shares. Seventy four per cent was sold for around Rs 4,000 crore and the rest went  for  a pittance of Rs 30 crore in same period.

The 2012 Budget Session of Parliament came to a standstill on revelations about the complicity of Mr Chidambaram in the Aircel-Maxis deal. But Mr Chacko, who jumped on a tainted retired auditor’s dilly dallying utterances (a planted one), kept his eyes, ears and mouth shut.

Mr Manmohan Singh, a mute spectator in the 2G scam, became a laughing stock, when he offered to appear before the Public Accounts Committee, while remaining silent over appearing before the JPC. Raja and Mr Chidambaram may have fooled the Prime Minister in the allocation of 2G licences, but that is no excuse for the Prime Minister’s conduct.

The irony is the dissent notes of the Opposition MPs would also go through the editing process by the JPC Chairman. And these edited dissent notes will also be kept as attached with the majority MPs’ report. And what will happen to this politically cooked-up report? There will be chaos when it comes to Parliament and as usual, the House will adjourn. No debate will take place. That is what the perpetrators of the 2G Spectrum scam want. 

The pertinent question is: Should cases related to corruption be decided on voting along political lines? The JPC probe in the 2G issue exposes the pitfalls and uselessness of a parliamentary probe, where ultimately every decision is taken on blind political affiliation. 

The silver lining has been the Supreme Court’s intervention to monitor the CBI probe. Credit goes to Mr Swamy and Mr Prashant Bhushan. At least Raja and some bribe-givers were caught.

The Special Court was set up to hear the case on a daily basis. Hopefully, the judgement will come by mid-2014. Meanwhile, what of the others who have escaped? Answer: Let us leave it to the people’s court, which will give its verdict by May 2014.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Choppergate kingpin's UK home on sale

J Gopikrishnan |  New Delhi
July 01, 2013

While the Indian and Italian probe agencies are still uncertain about his whereabouts, the fugitive Christian Michel, a major beneficiary of the AgustaWestland chopper scam, has put out an advertisement for sale of his plush home in  London .

According to the advertisement, Michel wants 4,75,000 British Pound Sterling (more than Rs 40 crore) for his home in  Chelsea ,  London .
The Italian probe team had nabbed   another middleman Guido Ralph Haschke, but Michel remained out of their clutches. According to the charge sheet filed in an Italian court, out of the total commission of around 51 million euros (Rs 360 crore), Michel had received a major portion of 31 million euros (Rs 218 crore).
Michel’s father Wolfgang Richard Michel was very active in Indian defence deals in the 80s and the 90s and was close to the Congress party leadership. Wolfgang, who passed away in August 2012, was a prominent arms dealer in aerospace industry.
He had played an active role in arms supply by Britain to Libyan dictator Gaddafi. His links also spread to Russia ,  Iran  and  Iraq . His son Christian Michel had taken over his father’s business in the early 90s.
The house sale advertisement, that  appeared in the property website Rightmove, shows several photos of exteriors and interiors of Michel’s home. Marsh & Parsons, a property firm in  Chelsea  is entrusted with the sale of this home. The huge house, close to River Thames, carries the address: Old Chelsea Mews,  18 Danvers Street , SW3.
This is the address assigned by Michel’s father Wolfgang to a company registered in  Panama, where he routed commission from arms deals across the globe. Wolfgang had registered this company in 1995 along with one Vikram Singh from  New Delhi . The company called Keyser Incorporated, registered in  Panama  was taken over by his son Michel.  
Christian Michel alias Christian James Michel left  London  around 2005. For the last seven years, he has been living in  Dubai . He last visited New  Delhi  in October 2012. He was forced to leave  London , after he was declared insolvent. After the insolvency, he was barred from becoming a director in those companies and was forced to dissolve all eight companies registered in the  UK .
According to Italian newspapers, “mysterious Michel” was known as the close confidant of Giuseppe Orsi, the arrested chief of Finmeccanica, the maker of the AgustaWestland choppers.
“Born in 1961, Michel is little known to the public. On the internet, there is no evidence of his business or his statement. Not a photo or an interview. Yet, Michel is very well known in Defence establishments in  New Delhi ,” says Lettera 43 the Italian newspaper report titled “Christian Michel, the English middleman of Finmeccanica.”

Michel’s sister Caroline Michel is a well known literary agent in  UK  and chief of a noted publishing house Peter Fraser and Dunlop. Michel is currently running a trading firm called Global Services FZE in Dubai Airport Free Zone and believed to be staying in the posh Palm Jumeirah area in  Dubai .
[The report was published in 'The Pioneer' on July 1, 2013]

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Hectic lobbying to increase gas price to provide bumper to Reliance Industries Limited


J Gopikrishnan / New Delhi
May 30, 2013

As the countdown has started for the end of the UPA Government, a move is underway to sharply increase the price of the indigenously produced natural gas. A Cabinet note shows that a section of the Government wants to bring the domestic price on a par with international rates. The move, which would come as windfall for Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries Limited (RIL), has triggered sharp differences among various Ministries.

According to the note prepared by the Petroleum Ministry for consideration of the Cabinet Committee on Economic Power Ministries are opposed to any price hike, the Finance and Petroleum Ministries and Planning Commission are and Planning Commission varies (Million Metric British Thermal Units) and $14 per mmbtu.

The note released by CPI veteran leader Gurudas Dasgupta last week to the media clearly shows that Fertiliser and Power Ministry are opposing the hike citing national interest and fearing huge loss to exchequer.

Fertilizer and Power sector are the major consumers of natural gas. According to Dasgupta, the rate suggested by Finance, Petroleum and Planning Commission reflects the wishes of Mukesh Ambani’s RIL, which will be major beneficiary of the largesse. At present the Government is purchasing gas at the rate of $4.2 per mmbtu. This rate was fixed by an Empowered Group of Ministers (eGoM) few years back.

In a series of letters to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, CPI(M) leader and member of the Standing Committee on Petroleum and Natural Gas Tapan Sen has pointed out that the current price of $4.2 per mmbtu itself is a bonanza to the RIL. In his letters, Sen pointed out that the RIL quoted $2.4 per mmbtu for supply of gas to NTPC in an international competitive bid.

The current controversy started after the Rangarajan Committee recommended a high rate of $8.2 per mmbtu for the purchases of domestically produced gas from April 2014, with provisions of specific increases in each stage in the coming five years. The committee’s report was submitted in December 2012. In India , the major gas producers are public sector undertakings ONGC and Oil India with around 60 per cent of total output, and the major private player is RIL, which started controlling the sector after its production started from KG Basin. According to the estimates of Petroleum Ministry, by 2016-17 the private players will control more than 50 per cent of the domestic gas production in India .

The Fertilizer and Power sectors will be hit hard in case of increase in the price of the gas from current level of $4.2 per mmbtu. Petroleum Minister Veerappa Moily’s arguments that the increase in price of gas would earn more revenue to the public exchequer were totally untenable as the Government had to shell out huge subsidies in Fertilizer and Power sector.

Moily’s arguments that ONGC and OIL India would benefit more did not take into account the fact after gas price hike, the Government would be required to pay huge subsidies in different sectors, which The ultimate beneficiary would be the private gas producing contractors, who wants to get money in dollars for a domestic production.

Is the UPA Government ignoring the interest of the nation over corporate interests?

[The report was published in ‘The Pioneer’ on May 30, 2013]

Thursday, March 28, 2013


J Gopikrishnan / New Delhi
March 18, 2013

Union Petroleum Minister M Veerappa Moily could be in the dock for raising funds for his family controlled trust from a corporate giant when he was Corporate Affairs Minister. Moily faces another serious case of conflict of interest as a top official of Reliance Industries is advisor to a company controlled by Moily’s son Harsha Moily. Even earlier, the Minister has faced charges of favouring Reliance in the KG basin case.

Veerappa Moily has been president of Kissan Sabha Trust (KST), which received huge funds from ITC from Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) budget in September 2012. His son Harsha Moily’s email message to his partner Sudhir P clearly showed that Moily himself managed the fund from the ITC for his private trust.

“Sudhir — Dad just called and confirmed that ITC has approved the funding the operating expenses of KST (Kissan Sabha Trust) for the next five years. Therefore, for ITC to process the payments, we have to immediately furnish ITC all OpEx bills for Karkala & Chikaballarpur for the academic year 2011-12. Request you to do the needful,” said the email message, which was also forwarded to Moily’s official email vmoily@ kar.nic.in.

The subject of the message was Capital Budget for Kissan Sabha Trust for Funding. The Kissan Sabha Trust is a family-controlled trust of Moily. It was established decades ago and is running educational institutes and charitable organisations in Karkala and Chikaballarpur in Karnataka. In addition to Moily, his wife Malathy, son Harsha and daughter Sushma too are members of the trust.

“The total capital cost for Karkala school comes to Rs.1.71 crore and for Chikkaballarpur school Rs.3.10 crore. Total capital cost comes to Rs.4.81 crore…. For operating the schools, our budget right now is Rs.50 lakh for this year and will increase with PUC students getting admitted. Hence we may ask for a corpus fund of Rs.6 crore to fund the day to day operations @ 8% per annum,” said an earlier email sent by Sudhir to Harsha Moily. The email messages between the duo talk about approaching the corporate sector for the requirements of the trust.

The person, Sudhir P, referred in this mail is Sudhir K Prabhu. He is also a Director in one of the companies run by Moily’s son  and the Karnataka branch head of a Mumbai-based Chartered Accountant’s firm, which audits companies of Harsha Moily.

The documents available with The Pioneer show that Harsha Moily is/was Promoter and Director of four companies, whose business flourished after Moily became Cabinet Minister in May 2009. The account of one of his companies shows an unsecured loan of Rs.6 crore from an unknown source. Moksha-Yug Access India Private Limited is one of the major companies run by Harsha.

The company which faced fund crunch after it was established way back in 2005, literally got “Moksha” after Veerappa Moily landed in Union Cabinet in 2009 as Law Minister, then moved to Corporate Affairs Minister with additional charge of Power, and finally shifted to the coveted Petroleum and Natural Gas portfolio.  
The Moksha-Yug Access (MYA), started as a supply chain company of rural products, is currently concentrating on milk supply. The company, which was floated by Harsha and his sister Hamsa, handles more than one lakh litre of milk supply every day.

And here comes the Reliance connection. The website of the company claims that one Mr Ananth Ravi, President of Reliance Industries, is their Advisor.

“Mr Ananth Ravi advises MYA on finance related matters. He has led the Project Finance team of Reliance in the financing of billion dollar projects in telecom, petroleum and retail sectors. He was also instrumental in setting up the Reliance’s telecom venture, Reliance Infocomm operations in Karnataka. He brings to MYA, his vast experience in project management and finance,” says the company’s website.

Around 50 per cent of this company’s shares are held by US and Mauritius-based funds, while Harsha owns around 20 per cent stakes. Well-known companies like Bharat Forge and Jubilant Agro are stakeholders or Directors Board of this company.

MYA Financial Services Private Limited, Rural Crystals Educational Services Private Limited and MVH Holdings are the other three companies where Harsha and Moily’s other family members are Directors.
Moily's son speaks out : 
Pioneer News Service / New Delhi March 20, 2013

While Moily maintained a stony silence over the exposé, his son Harsha Moily issued a clarification through a PR agency. He sought to claim that their family-controlled Kissan Sabha Trust (KST) “operates on low budget and expenditures were met from donations from public”.

“As a practice budget requirements are drawn to understand the funding requirements to run educational institutions for underprivileged poor and school dropouts. The estimation for a yearly operating expenditure was worked out at Rs.50 lakhs a year. A corpus to ensure yearly interest receipt was worked out at Rs.6 crores to yield Rs.50 lakhs at 8 per cent interest per annum. The estimation of creating a corpus is an accounting exercise. The Trust has not received any funding of Rs.6 crores. It has been granted Rs.42 lakhs to fund the operating expenditure for the year though the operating expenditure is higher and is met from donations from the public. The trust operates on a low budget and does not have any corpus or other assets,” an emailed statement on behalf Harsha Moily maintained.

Harsha admitted that Ananth Ravi, president of Reliance Industries, was an “Advisor” in his company Moksha-Yug Access India Private Ltd (MYA). However, Harsha claimed that Ravi “excused from the Advisory Board” since August 2012 and that he was his “mentor” from 1999. 

“It is important to note that MYA received funding from professional investors in 2008, much before my father joined the Government. MYA’s investors did due diligence on MYA through the most part of 2007, and the funding from VCs came through in March 2008,” he said, while reacting to this newspaper’s report that funds started flowing from 2009 when Veerappa Moily became the Union Cabinet Minister.

The fact remains that the The Pioneer report focussed on highlighting Veerappa Moily’s role as Union Corporate Affairs Minister in managing funds from the corporates for his family-controlled Trust. The newspaper never mentioned about the amount of funds received by KST from tobacco major ITC. It cited only the contents of the emails between Harsha and his partner Sudhir P to established Veerappa Moily’s direct involvement in the whole issue. The report mentioned about a transaction of Rs 6 crore, as unsecured loan in two tranches from unexplained sources, to Harsha’s another company called MVH Holdings.

“Sudhir - Dad just called and confirmed that ITC has approved the funding the operating expenses of KST (Kissan Sabha Trust) for the next five years. Therefore, for ITC to process the payments, we have to immediately furnish ITC all OpEx (Operational Expenses) bills for Karkala & Chikaballarpur for the academic year 2011-12. Request you to needful,” said the email message sent by Harsha to his partner.

The email was also marked to Veerappa Moily’s official email id vmoily@kar.nic.in at 1.09pm on September 21, 2012. The subject of the message was ‘Capital Budget for Kissan Sabha Trust for Funding’. Harsha didn’t contradict the facts as reported by The Pioneer and chose to maintain silence both on his father’s role.

No favour to corporates in lieu of funds for trust: Moily

Pioneer News Service / New Delhi  March 21, 2013

Breaking his silence over The Pioneer expose on his role in managing funds from ITC to his family-controlled Kissan Sabha Trust (KST), Petroleum Minister Veerappa Moily on Wednesday admitted that his Trust approached corporates “for noble purposes”. In a Press release, Moily claimed that he never extended any favour or help to any corporates for seeking financial assistance for the trust.

However, in his two-page statement, Moily chose to keep mum on the email communications between his son and partner over the funds from tobacco giant ITC. “Dad just called and confirmed that ITC has approved the funding for next 5 years…,” his son Harsha stated in his email to his partner and marked to Veerappa Moily also.

“The Trust accounts are maintained in a fair and transparent manner and the same is open for any scrutiny. However, in order to effectively work towards achieving its noble purpose, the Trust approaches Corporates who are promoting the social cause for the benefit of the people from the bottom of the pyramid.

“I would like to categorically state that there have been absolutely no occasion for me to extend any kind of favour or help to any corporates for seeking financial assistance for the Trust,” said Moily in the statement.

Moily said that he was “pained” to see that his son Harsha’s successful business ventures being condemned, merely since he “happens to be son of a political person”.

“It is also a matter of fact that Harsha has been successfully working towards social cause on the basis of his own conscience and without any political ambitions,” said Moily senior.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Italian media hints at Cong link to copter scam

J Gopikrishnan / New Delhi
 Feb 15, 2013

Like the Bofors scam, the AgustaWestland chopper deal too has telltale signs of a Congress connection. According to the Italian newspaper ‘Lettera 43’, main commission agent Christian Michel’s late father was “close to the Congress party”, and the other middleman, Guido Ralph Haschke, was a Director of Emaar-MGF, a real estate company owned by relatives of Kanishka Singh, who is associated with a Congress high-up.
Michel was also the agent of Dassault, which has emerged as the lowest bidder for the Indian Air Force’s 10 billion dollar deal for Rafale fighter jets, supposed to be the world’s biggest tender. 

According to the Italian newspaper report on November 20, 2012, the “mysterious” British citizen Michel, described as “Man of Orsi”, had received 60 per cent (around `210 crore) of the kickback amount of 51 million Euros (around `360 crore) from the Finmeccanica, the manufactures of AgustaWestland choppers.

The investigation report filed in the Italian court corroborated the findings. It said that the CEO of Finmeccanica, Giuseppe Orsi, and AgustaWestland CEO Bruno Spagnolini had paid 30 million Euros (`217 crore) to Christian Michel. “Orsi and Spagnolin, moreover, paid Christian Michel a total amount of about Euros 30 million, partly destined to support the corrupt activity meant to bag the order and partly to implement the contract,” the document said.

“Born in 1961, Michel is little known to the public. On the internet, there are no evidences of his business or his statement. Not a photo or an interview. Yet, Michel is very well introduced in Defence establishments in New Delhi,” says the Italian newspaper report titled “Christian Michel, the English middleman of Finmeccanica.”

“His contacts are stronger especially with the Indian Defence, that he has inherited from his father, Wolfgang Max Michel Richard, a British businessman who was very active in India between 80s and 90s and was close to the Congress party,” the reports says. 

The detailed article on the business background of the “mysterious” Michel stated that his father had business interests in Libya, Russia, Iran and Iraq. He was a Labour party’s fund-raiser before his death in August 2012.

Italian newspaper reports as well as French Court records establish that Michel was an agent of Dassault, which is set to bag the 10 billion dollar worth deal from Indian Air Force. According to these reports, in 2004, Michel sued Dassault over non-payment of commission for the purchase of Mirage aircraft for Indian Air Force in 2000. However, Michel lost the case at Paris Commercial Tribunal on the technical grounds that his agreement with Dassault had expired.

Haschke case is all more bizarre. The man who confessed to the Italian court on his connections with former Air Chief SP Tyagi was the Director of Emaar MGF, the firm which bagged the biggest deal in connection with Commonwealth Games. Haschke is neither builder nor a real estate entrepreneur, so his connection with Emaar  MGF is bound to raise eyebrows.

The controversial real estate giant is still being probed by the CBI for alleged irregularities in the construction of the Games Village Complex in Delhi. Late Ved Prakash Gupta, the founder of Emaar MGF, was the maternal grandfather of Kanishka Singh. Kanishka’s father late SK Singh was also promoter of another related company called MGF. The real estate company Emaar MGF was doled out controversial favour by the Delhi Development Authority after it bagged the contract for building the CWG Village.

According to the prospectus filed by Emaar MGF with SEBI, Haschke was Director in September 2009. But in December 2009, he resigned after the Games scandal exploded and Opposition leaders and former BJP chief Nitin Gadkari alleged that the Emmar MGF had been favoured due to its link with Kanishka Singh.

1951 born, Haschke is a Switzerland-based defence middleman, who holds dual passports of his motherland Italy and that of the USA. Haschke earned 20 million euros (around Rs 150cr) in the deal, according to chargsheet in the AgustaWestland case. It is learned that Haschke stopped visiting India after 2011, when his name cropped up in the Italian probe. Michel, a frequenter to Delhi for the past two decades, also stopped coming to India after August 2012. He is currently operating from Dubai.

[The report was published in ‘The Pioneer’ on Feb 15, 2013]

Feb 16, 2013 – The Pioneer

About “the family” in the Copter Scam

A mysterious family has emerged as the major recipient of the payoff in the Rs 3,700 cr AgustaWestland helicopter deal. In the 64-page chargesheet filed in the Italian court, pages 40 and 41 refer to “the family” which got 28 million Euro (around Rs 200 cr) as kickback from the Finmeccanica, the Italian manufacturer of the AgustaWestland (AW) helicopters.
“We have had extensive discussion on Sunday, the 8th of May, 2011, and it has come to light that there were two agreements in place with AW which is where the misunderstanding has arisen. One agreement was for EUR 42mn with the team and other for EUR 28mn (not less than 5% of the total contract value) with the family.
“The team has agreed to reduce their EUR 42mn to EUR 30mn while recognising the need for the agreement of EUR 29mn with the family to be honoured in full,” said the document, which is the part of the chargesheet.
According to the chargesheet, this document was seized from the bedroom of middleman Haschke’s mother during a raid in Switzerland in April 2012. The chargesheet also talks about a dispute between another middleman Christian Michel and Haschke on sharing the commission amount. Michel was forced to accept around 12 million Euro (around 85 crore) to accommodate “the family.”
The chargesheet has details about the separate payments made to each member of another family — the Tyagis - amounting to 4,00,000 Euros (around Rs  3.5 crore).
According to the Italian investigators, the next tranche of evidences and the second chargesheet is expected to be filed by March-end.
The BJP on Friday stepped up pressure on the UPA regime asking it to reveal the identity of “the family” that received Rs 200 crore kickbacks.
“Who finalised and signed the VVIP chopper deal?, asked BJP spokesman Prakash Javadekar. He also demanded the Government to answer. “Who received the kickbacks?”
He said the Italian chargesheet talks about payment of 28 million Euros to ‘The Family’ at least at two points. “The nation wants to know who “The Family’ is?” Javadekar told reporters.
In its Friday edition, The Pioneer quoted French and Italian newspaper reports claiming that the main commission agent Christian Michel’s late father was “close to the Congress party”, and the other middleman Guido Ralph Haschke was a director of Emaar MGF, a real estate company owned by relatives of Kanishka Singh, who is associated with a Congress high-up.
Meanwhile, BJP national secretary Kirit Somaiya on Friday wrote to the CBI seeking an investigation into the role of Kanishka Singh in the helicopter deal. In his petition to CBI, pointing out that one of the Italian middle man Guido Haschke was a Director with the real estate company, Somalia said that Emaar MGF owned by Kanishka’s relatives benefited from the chopper deal.
Emaar MGF washes hands of Kanishka, Haschke
Real estate major Emaar MGF on Friday claimed it has “no links with Kanishka Singh or any of his relatives”. The company also said that it was in no way connected with the business of the Italian middleman Guido Haschke and that he served only for a short period in its Board of Directors.
Reacting to a story published in The Pioneer’s Friday edition titled ‘Italian media hints at Congress links to copter scam’, the company said: “We have no links with Kanishka Singh or any of his relatives as mentioned in your story. We would like to state that Kanishka Singh or any of his relatives have no direct or indirect business interest, including as a shareholder and/or promoter in Emaar MGF. We are a corporate house with best of corporate governance and all our shareholding is public and has been filed with various authorities as and when required as per the statutory requirements.”
The company admitted Haschke  served as an independent non-executive director for a brief period. “Emaar MGF has had no other association with him or any of his businesses/associates other than this. Haschke was appointed on the Board of the Company due to the statutory requirement of having a diversified board with a certain number of independent directors on the board to be a publicly listed company. Therefore he was appointed as an independent director to fulfill the requirements of the company’s proposed IPO.” The company also claimed he had not visited any of their office or even attended any board meetings.
The company said Haschke was a registered consultant to the World Bank for Asset Trading and Debt Restructuring and was appointed by it considering his experience with international financial.
The Pioneer stands by its report. It is known that Kanishka Singh’s maternal grandfather Ved Prakash Gupta was the founder of Emaar MGF. The company’s current promoter Rajiv Gupta is Kanishka’s uncle. Other promoters, Shravan Gupta and Siddharth Gupta, are his cousins. We have only reported the facts in public domain.

Friday, January 18, 2013

The good CAG and the bad CAG

J Gopikrishnan
[The Pioneer Op Ed article Dec 12, 2012]

On December 3, Comptroller and Auditor-General Vinod Rai and his colleagues must have had a hearty laugh watching television channels flashing news of Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting Manish Tewari’s live Press conference at the All India Congress Committee’s office. Mr Tewari, a frequent CAG baiter, was ‘revealing’ to the media a ‘scam’ related to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. The Minister was talking at length and posing serious questions to Mr Modi on the benefits allegedly given to certain companies, and the role of a foreigner in the gas exploration contract of a State public sector undertaking. He was citing a magazine report which in turn was based on the CAG’s findings.

Several illegalities in the gas exploration contract had been then found by the CAG, and these were tabled in its report in the Gujarat Assembly on April 2012. Though the magazine gave credit to the CAG in its recent report, Mr Tewari refrained from doing so. He instead praised the magazine for the exposé on Mr Modi’s “corruption”. In fact, even the questions that Mr Tewari asked the Gujarat Chief Minister in the Press conference were a direct lift from the CAG report.

Ironically, Mr Tewari banked on the CAG’s findings against the Modi Government’s gas exploration contract. Till this Press conference, the Congress and its Ministers since the past two years had been mercilessly attacking CAG and its chief, Mr Rai, for the findings in the 2G Spectrum scam report.

For these politicians, the CAG report is gospel truth when it suits their politics and when it does not, they violate all norms of decorum to attack the CAG in general and its head in particular.

This ‘my CAG versus your CAG’ syndrome is the bane of Indian politics. When the CAG report is against them, politicians immediately start raising questions: Can the CAG question policy? Next will be the turn of the spin doctors of the party. The so-called brigade will initiate Goebbelsian methods by questioning the auditing style and ‘unilateral’ move of the CAG, and its method of calculation of presumptive loss. The last, of course, is the contribution of the dirty tricks department.

We recently witnessed the dirty trick played by the UPA regime when it dug up a retired auditor to trash the very report which he had prepared. Given the downgrading of Indian politics and the magnitude of slush money involved in the scams unearthed by the CAG, we may see more retired Government personnel coming out in the future. The theatrics of retired auditor RP Singh are hidden from no one. He was present at the Press conference when the CAG report on 2G Spectrum scam was unveiled two years ago, proudly explaining the nitty-gritty of the report on the massive scam. He is the same person who presented the report before the parliamentarians of the Public Accounts Committee, after taking oath. His numerous U-turns now have thoroughly undermined his credibility.

The CAG’s critics ignore the powers, the duties and the responsibilities of this premier constitutional body of the country. CAG auditors do not arrive at their conclusions unilaterally. There are several pre-audit and post-audit conferences and interactions between Ministries and Government Departments concerned and the CAG team. Several questions need to be addressed and answered satisfactorily before preparing the draft report itself. The CAG’s office scrupulously seeks explanations more than once from the persons concerned, before indicting them. This prestigious body needs nobody’s consent in deciding on what should be audited. It is simply its prerogative to decide on what to audit, when to audit and how to audit. Those powers are derived from the Constitution. It is, therefore, highly amusing to read newspaper headlines of this kind: “Reliance agrees for auditing”.

The 2G scam report is unique. It is the very first report where the CAG found the role of corporates or bribe-givers in influencing policy-makers while dealing with the Government and in the allotment of natural resources. The CAG’s subsequent reports on Coalgate, Delhi Airport and mega power projects indicted and exposed the ‘who’s who’ of India’s corporate sector.

Apart from the politicians and the Government, the CAG has thus added corporates to its list of opponents. With the involvement of the corporate sector in many shady deals, CAG-bashing has gained added impetus of late.

In normal practice, a CAG report broadly has three parts. First, the report will speak about the policy and norms in practice and the history of that policy. Second, the report will expose the violations and the illegalities and, if needed, indict the persons concerned. Finally, in its suggestions/observations, the CAG may highlight the possible loss or presumptive loss to the public exchequer due to the illegalities. The presumptive loss is derived through certain statistical measures and it is the CAG’s prerogative to do so.

For more than five years, Parliament has not debated any CAG report. Normally, the CAG report tabled in Parliament goes to the Public Accounts Committee for a review. Some non-important CAG reports may not go to the PAC and it is the PAC’s prerogative to take a decision on this. The CAG report then returns to Parliament with the PAC’s recommendations for a debate. But the Congress has used its majority to scuttle the PAC report on the 2G Spectrum scam with the help of the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party. This is because the PAC has questioned the role of Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself in the scam, while the CAG had limited its indictment to only former Union Minister for Telecommunications A Raja. Using political leverage to influence probes and swing deals portents ill for democracy and this country.

The CAG is considered a friend, philosopher and guide of the PAC. The CAG and its officials concerned with the report are part and parcel of PAC meetings. Despite knowledge of these conventions and practices, a brouhaha on the relations between the two bodies is created frequently.

It is the Government’s moral duty to hold an immediate debate on the important CAG reports, as soon as these reports are tabled. It is also the Opposition’s moral obligation to demand a debate. But today, because of the involvement of influential people in and outside the Government, none of the people’s representatives in Parliament wants debates. Instead of a structured debate on the CAG report in Parliament and the State Assemblies, political parties prefer mudslinging. Structured debates will force the Government at the Centre to respond and be accountable. Also, the bribe-givers from the corporate sector will be exposed.

Incidentally, what were the Congress MLAs in Gujarat doing when the CAG placed the report in April 2012, on the irregularities in gas exploration project? What was the PAC in Gujarat headed by a Congress MLA doing on this CAG report all these months?