x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Indian minister resigns over telecoms scandal

Dayanidhi Maran denies that he benefited after a dubious mobile phone deal.

NEW DELHI // An ongoing investigation into corruption in the telecommunications ministry forced the resignation yesterday of a government minister who police allege may have been involved in the scandal.

Dayanidhi Maran, who was the minister for textiles until resigning, had been the telecommunications minister between 2004 and 2007.

He has been accused, by the Central Bureau of Investigation, of withholding for almost two years a spectrum licence from a mobile company named Aircel, forcing Aircel's owner to sell out to a Malaysian group named Maxis.

On Wednesday, investigators told the Supreme Court that after Maxis acquired Aircel, the necessary licences had been issued within a month.

"Within three months of this, Mr Maran's family-owned business received substantial investment from Maxis Group," according the Centre for Public Interest Litigation, an NGO that is a petitioner in the so-called 2G spectrum case.

"Maxis Group invested Rs599.01 crore (Dh488 million) in Sun Direct from December 2007 to December 2009 … these transactions show a clear case of quid pro quo."

In a statement last week, Mr Maran said he was innocent.

"I have never had to force anyone to do business or to sell the business. And moreover, let me tell you, if someone feels forced, they could have always gone to the court."

The telecommunications investigation has already sent one former minister to prison; A Raja, the telecommunications minister from 2007 to 2010.

Raja was arrested in February and has been awaiting trial after the Central Bureau of Investigation found evidence that he had also subverted the spectrum allocation process, costing the government an estimated US$38 billion (Dh139.5bn) in potential revenue.

Both Mr Raja and Mr Maran belong to the same political party, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), a party based in Chennai, in the state of Tamil Nadu, and headed by M Karunanidhi, 87.

Mr Karunanidhi's daughter, Kanimozhi Karunanidhi, a parliamentarian, was also arrested in May as part of the same investigation.

She was arrested because Kalaignar TV, a television network in which she had owned a 20 per cent stake, was found to have accepted an unexplained Dh161.5m from DB Realty, another company that allegedly benefited from the selective allocation of mobile telephone licences.

The DMK has been an important ally of the Congress Party in the coalition government, but the parties' relationship has been crumbling since Mr Raja's arrest.

Cho Ramaswamy, a Chennai-based analyst of Tamil Nadu politics, did not link Mr Maran's arrest to the decline of the ties between the two parties.

"Allegations have been made, and they have to be investigated," he said.

The Central Bureau of Investigation expects to complete its investigation of the 2G spectrum scandal by the end of next month.

ssubramanian@thenational.ae

sbhattacharya@thenational.ae