Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman today slammed the INC-led UPA government of the period 2004-14 for permitting the deal between Antrix and Devas Multimedia in 2005. The finance minister said the deal was a fraud on the people of India and against the country and praised the Supreme Court for giving a comprehensive outcome on the case.
“After nearly 10-11 years of struggle, the Supreme Court has come out with the decision on the case. This indicates how the Congress has misused its position when in power,” the finance minister said. She questioned the INC for allowing blatant selling of resources of the government and people of India for pretence.
“We are fighting to save taxpayers’ money, which otherwise would have gone to pay for the scandalous Antrix-Devas deal,” the finance minister said.
The finance minister’s comments came as the Devas shareholders pursue Indian assets abroad to recover $ 1.29 billion that international arbitration tribunals awarded over a cancelled satellite contract. They have got a French court order for freezing Indian properties in Paris and are seeking Air India funds in Canada.
In January 2005, Antrix Corporation signed an agreement with Devas Multimedia (a private company formed by former Isro employees and Venture Capitalists from the US) for the lease of S-band transponders on two Isro satellites (GSAT 6 and GSAT 6A) for a price of Rs 1,400 crore, a huge amount lower than the market price, to be paid over a period of 12 years.
Devas shares were sold at a premium of Rs 12,26,000, taking the accumulated share premium to Rs 578 crore, thus getting a high profit. In July 2008, Devas offloaded 17% of its stake to German company Deutsche Telekom for $ 75 million, and by 2010 had 17 investors, including former Isro scientists.
In late 2009, some Isro insiders exposed information about the Devas-Antrix deal, and the ensuing investigations resulted in the deal being annulled. G Madhavan Nair (Isro chairperson when the agreement was signed) was barred from holding any post under the Department of Space. Some former scientists were found guilty of “acts of commission” or “acts of omission”. Devas and Deutsche Telekom demanded $ 2 billion and $ 1 billion, respectively, in damages.
The CBI concluded investigations into the Antrix-Devas scam and registered a case against the accused in the Antrix-Devas deal under Section 120-B, besides Section 420 of IPC and Section 13(2) read with 13(1)(d) of PC Act, 1988 on 18 March 2015 against the then Executive Director, Antrix Corporation Limited, Bengaluru; two officials of the US-based company; Bengaluru based private multi-media company and other unknown officials of Antrix Corporation Limited, Isro and Department of Space.