Enforcement Directorate to probe Sun TV

Troubles for Union textiles minister Dayanidhi Maran appear to be deepening with clear indications that investigating agencies have stepped up their probe into the allegation that he misused his position as telecom minister in UPA-1 to organize benefits for his family concern, Sun Direct TV.

After CBI, the Enforcement Directorate has got on to Maran's trail, looking into his family-owned Sun TV's business transactions with Malaysian telecom company Maxis. The allegation against Maran is that he as telecom minister arm-twisted C Sivasankaran, promoter of Aircel, to sell out to Maxis which later through one of its subsidiaries invested Rs 600 crore in return for 20% stake in Sun Direct, a family concern of the Marans.

ED is looking into the transactions between Maxis and Sun Direct to ascertain whether the premium that the Malaysian company paid for the stake in Sun Direct was in line with the market price. A price paid over and above what the shares of Sun Direct fetched in the market at the time would suggest that "extraneous considerations" were in play, ED sources said. They said ED would also take into account the rates that Marans – the textiles minister and his brother Kalanidhi -- paid to increase their stake in the company.

Maran denied the allegation of coercing the promoter of Aircel. "There is a political conspiracy against me," he told reporters. "I was in political wilderness when the Maxis deal happened," he further said, adding, "I should be punished if I have done anything wrong."

Sources in UPA, however, said Maran was in "serious trouble", with his continuation in the Cabinet hinging on what Sivasankaran, the original promoter of Aircel, may tell the CBI. Sivasankaran has said that he will appear before CBI next week.

The agency is on the brink of converting the PE (preliminary inquiry) in the Aircel-Maxis deal into a regular case in what will be a precursor to the questioning of the Union minister. CBI has already told the Supreme Court that it would probe the transactions involving Aircel, Maxis and Sun Direct. With Congress already reeling from the fallout of the 2G scam allegedly perpetrated by A Raja, another Union minister belonging to the DMK, it may like to cut its losses rather than persist with Maran in case he turns into a political drag.

On Wednesday, renowned PIL activist lawyer Prashant Bhushan had moved the Supreme Court seeking a probe into Sun Direct TV's dealings with Maxis.

"Maran's family owned business (Sun Direct) received substantial investment from Maxis group (Aircel) which took 20% equity in Sun Direct. Maxis group invested a total of Rs 599.01 crore in Sun Direct between December 2007 and December 2009," a PIL filed by the Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) alleged.

CPIL claimed that Aircel, under the ownership of Sivasankaran, failed to get a mobile service licence despite making repeated applications since 2004. Frustrated by non-grant of licences, Sivasankaran sold 74% of his stake in Aircel to Maxis group in May 2006. Within six months, Aircel got 14 licences.

"In addition to the above investment in Sun Direct, a Maxis group company (Astro through its wholly owned company South Asia Multi-media Technologies Ltd) also made an investment of Rs 111.28 crore in South Asia FM Ltd, an FM company owned by Maran group which had licence to own and operate 23 FM radio stations in India," the PIL said.

"These transactions show a clear case of quid pro quo for getting Universal Access Services Licences (UASL) by Maxis group," it said and even questioned how a foreign company could hold up to 99.3% of stake in Aircel.


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