A day after the Enforcement Directorate (ED) booked Congress MP Karti Chidambaram in the Chinese visa scam, the MP reached the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) headquarters on Thursday to join the investigation into the alleged scam. The case pertains to the issuance of visas to 263 Chinese nationals in 2011 when his father P Chidambaram was the home minister.
A special court had ordered him to join the CBI investigation within 16 hours of his arrival from the UK and Europe, where he had gone with the permission of the Supreme Court and the special court itself. He arrived at the CBI office on Thursday morning to answer questions related to the case.
Speaking to reporters outside the CBI headquarters, Karti said the case against him was "bogus", and claimed that he had not facilitated the issuance of visa to any Chinese national.
What is the Chinese visa scam?
In 2011, Vedanta Group Company's subsidiary Talwandi Sabo Power Plant Ltd (TSPl) was in the process of setting up a 1980 MW thermal power plant at Mansa in Punjab. The company had outsourced the work to a Chinese company named Shandong Electric Power Construction Corporation (SEPCO).
According to the CBI FIR, as the project was running behind schedule leading to financial repercussions, the company attempted to bring in more Chinese workers for which it required project visas over and above the ceiling imposed by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).
Following the delay, the company’s representative Vikas Makharia approached Karti Chidambaram's close associate S Bhaskararaman and then submitted a request letter dated July 30, 2011, to the MHA (Foreigners Division) seeking permission to re-use the project visas issued to the company.
The company was given approval for the re-use of 263 project visas and the bribe of Rs 50 lakhs was allegedly paid in cash to Bhaskaraman on August 30, 2011, the company was given the approval to reuse the 263 project visas.
Claiming that the letter for VISA approval submitted to the MHA was shared on email with Karti by a Vedanta representative, the CBI FIR said, “S. Bhaskararaman, after discussion with Sh. P Chidambaram, the then Home Minister, demanded an illegal gratification of Rs. 50 Lakhs for ensuring the above said approval.”
The developments of the case
The CBI got the whiff of the case during its ongoing investigation related to the INX media case in which Karti is already under probe in getting Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance for INX media.
According to media reports, when the ED was probing the INX Media case against the Chidambarams, it had stumbled upon evidence that Karti was offered a bribe of Rs 50 lakh by the Vedanta Group to facilitate the visas of Chinese nationals. The bribe was offered to Karti's Chartered Accountant Bhaskaraman and assertions were based on certain email communications it had retrieved from the hard disk of Bhaskararaman’s laptop.
In June 2018, through a letter named, “digital evidence retrieved from a hard disk of Shri S Bhaskararaman, CA of Shri Karti P Chidambaram from the premises of Sh. Karti P Chidambaram, relating to a request for grant of 300 visas to Chinese Nationals by the Home Ministry," the ED had drawn the attention of the CBI into the case.
Amid the ongoing INX Media Case, the fresh case was filed by the CBI on May 17, 2022.
On the same day, the CBI started coordinated search operations at nine locations in multiple cities in the country, including Karti Chidambaram's residences in Chennai and Delhi. A CBI team also visited the official residence of Karti Chidambaram and senior Congress leader and Rajya Sabha MP P Chidambaram at Lodhi Estate, Delhi.
On Wednesday, the ED registered a money laundering case against Chidambaram and others in the alleged scam. The federal agency filed its case under the criminal sections of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) taking cognisance of a recent first information report by the CBI in the same case.
The ED will probe the possible "proceeds of crime" that could have been generated due to the alleged illegal activity. The accused will be questioned as part of the investigation.
Karti Chidambaram has denied all allegations and said "if this is not harassment, not a witch hunt, then what is."
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court had granted had allowed travelling abroad to the United Kingdom after furnishing an itinerary and security of Rs 2 crores.