Indian police charge ex-minister, Malaysian tycoon in telecoms scandal

Reuters News
Posted: Aug 30, 2014 5:33 AM

By Devidutta Tripathy

MUMBAI (Reuters) - India's federal police have filed charges against a former minister, his media mogul brother, and a Malaysian tycoon over alleged corruption to help Malaysia's Maxis group take control of an Indian mobile phone carrier eight years ago.

South Indian politician Dayanidhi Maran, who was India's telecommunications minister between 2004 and 2007; his brother billionaire Kalanithi Maran; Malaysia's second-richest man T. Ananda Krishnan and his aide Augustus Ralph Marshall, are among those named in the charge sheet filed in a New Delhi court on Friday, a police spokeswoman said.

The case is separate from a massive scandal that a state auditor said had lost the government about $29 billion during a 2008 telecoms permits sale process. Another former telecoms minister and several company executives are among the accused in an ongoing trial over that case.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), India's top crime-fighting agency, started investigating the Maran brothers and Krishnan in 2011 after allegations that the telecoms minister had forced the sale of mobile carrier Aircel, allowing Krishnan's Maxis to acquire a controlling stake in 2006.

"The investigation revealed that the then (telecoms minister) had allegedly abused (his) official position and constricted the business environment of Chennai-based private firm on frivolous grounds with an intent to force its exit from telecom business and its sale to Malaysia-based company," the CBI said in a statement on Friday.

Companies controlled by billionaire Kalanithi Maran's Sun Group, which runs a media business including television channels and satellite TV services, had received "illegal gratification" totaling about 7.42 billion rupees ($123 million), the CBI said. About 5.49 billion rupees of it was "in the garb of" the premium paid for the purchase of a stake in a Sun Group company, the agency said.

The charges against the Marans, Krishnan and his aide include criminal conspiracy, the CBI said. Astro All Asia Networks Plc, Maxis Communications Bhd [MXSCC.UL], South Asia Entertainment Holdings Ltd - all part of Ananda Krishnan's business empire - and Sun Group's Sun Direct TV Pvt. Ltd have also been named in the police charge sheet.

A spokeswoman for Maxis said she could not immediately comment. A Sun Group spokesman also declined comment. Dayanidhi Maran and Kalanithi Maran could not be immediately reached for a comment.

Dayanidhi Maran has previously denied any wrongdoing. Maxis had said in October 2011 that it was co-operating with the probe and was confident that the allegations against it would prove to be "unfounded and without basis."

($1 = 60.5050 Indian rupees)

(Additional reporting by Anuradha Raghu in Kuala Lumpur; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Simon Cameron-Moore)