'No concrete evidence' - court drops cases against Maran brothers in Aircel-Maxis case
New Delhi : After six years of remaining under a cloud of suspicion, former Communications Minister Dayanidhi Maran and his brother Kalanithi got a major relief on Thursday when a court dropped the charges against them and others in the alleged kickback of Rs 742 crore in the Aircel-Maxis deal, saying that the "perception of suspicion" was not backed by concrete evidence.
Special CBI Judge O.P. Saini, in scathing observations, said that no minister or senior government officer would be safe if "contradictory oral statements" of witnesses are made legally acceptable.
Judge Saini discharged Maran, his brother Kalanithi Maran, Kalanithi's wife Kavery Kalanithi, South Asia FM Ltd (SAFL) Managing Director K. Shanmugam and three companies -- SAFL and Sun Direct TV Pvt Ltd (SDTPL) and South Asia Entertainment Holdings Ltd, Mauritius in two related but different cases.
Dismissing the cases against them, the judge said the oral statements, which were used by the CBI and ED to frame charges, were a "dangerous trend" and that if it were allowed "anybody and everybody in the government can be made to face prosecution".
The court was hearing two different matters related to the Aircel-Maxis deal, one lodged by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in 2011, and another by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in 2012.
The Maran brothers and company SDTPL were accused in both cases.
ED had chargesheeted the Maran brothers, Kavery, Shanmugam and companies SDTPL and SAFL under money laundering charges, while the CBI booked the brothers, company SDTPL and South Asia Entertainment Holdings for corruption charges.
On August 29, 2014, the CBI filed a chargesheet alleging that between July 2004 to September 2008, Dayanidhi Maran, as Minister in the UPA-I government, used his influence to help Malaysian businessman T.A. Ananda Krishnan buy Aircel by coercing its owner Sivasankaran to part with his stake.
Sivasankaran alleged that Maran favoured the Krishnan-owned Maxis Group in the takeover of his company. In return, he alleged, Maxis made investments through Astro Network, a sister concern, in SDPL, stated to be owned by the Maran family.
Judge Saini, after going through the documents, observed that the "entire case is based on the misreading of the official files, contradictory statements of the witnesses as well as speculations and surmises of C. Sivasankaran".
He said there was "no prima facie case warranting framing of charge" against any of the accused.
Sivasankaran had alleged that Dayanidhi Maran abused his official position and deliberately delayed grant of Unified Access Services (UAS) licences in seven service areas in India to Aircel on frivolous grounds with an intent to force its exit from telecom business by constricting its business environment.
When Aircel was transferred to Maxis Group, the long-pending licence was smoothly acceded to, Sivasankaran alleged.
However, the court turned down his allegations, observing that "perusal of the file reveals that the file was pending due to impending Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) policy".
Dismissing the CBI and ED charges, Judge Saini observed that officials who were responsible for delay in processing of the licence file have been made witness in the case, and thus, "readily and willingly made oral statements, fully and wholly contrary to the official record".
He cutting observed that perusal of the files "reveals that the concerned officers were either stalling or expediting" the issues "on their own initiative, but by making oral statements blamed J.S. Sarma (a senior telecom officer) for the same".
Sarma, who has served in different capacities in the Department of Telecom including as Additional Secretary, was also a co-accused in the case but the charges against him were dropped after he died on February 28, 2014.
The court questioned that "If such oral statements, which do not flow from the record or find corroboration from anywhere from any circumstance, are given judicial recognition, what shall be the fate of the rule of law?"
"If such a practice is allowed, anybody and everybody in the government can be made to face prosecution.
"No Minister or Secretary would remain safe or for that matter anyone working in the department."
"This is a dangerous trend and can strike at the root of rule of law and the constitutional democracy as wrongdoers can gang up against those, who, by the perusal of record, are innocent," the court opined.
The ED has filed its chargesheet on January 8, 2016 alleging that Rs 742.58 crore was paid as illegal gratification to Dayanidhi Maran by Mauritius-based companies.
The money was paid in two companies namely SDTPL and SAFL, which were controlled by Kalanithi Maran.
The probe revealed that promoters of the SDTPL are Kalanithi Maran and Kavery Kalanithi.
The ED alleged that Dayanidhi Maran obtained the "proceeds of crime" of Rs 742.58 crore through the companies of his relatives by camouflaging it as capital contribution in SDTPL and SAFL, which it said was tantamount to money laundering.
The court observed that there is no evidence to connect the illegal money with Maran and other accused persons.
"These may create a perception or a suspicion that the money received in the company of Kalanithi Maran was meant for Dayanidhi Maran, but perception or suspicion are not enough for criminal prosecution," the court ruled.
The court said that "the perception or suspicion is required to be investigated and supported by legally admissible evidence, which is wholly lacking in this case."