Chennai — Now former finance minister Palaniappan Chidambaram’s wife Nalini Chidambaram is in the CBI net for her alleged involvement in the Saradha ponzi scandal. Late evening, Saturday, 3 officers of the Central Bureau of Investigation raided her home in Chennai. Documents related to the Saradha group’s purchase of NE TV were recovered from the house, sources in the CBI said.
Before absconding to Kashmir, Saradha group head Sudipta Sen had sent an 18-page letter to the CBI. The letter mentioned N Chidambaram’s name. Hence the raid!
Among a litany of allegations made in Sen’s letter, an issue raised was that of the purchase of NE TV. Indian National Congress leader Matang Singh — who was also the coal minister in the PV Narasimha Rao government — and his estranged wife Manoranjana Singh had signed a deal with Sen. N Chidambaram had played the role of a mediator in helping that contract materialise, says the letter.
A lawyer by profession, Mrs Chidambaram has vehemently denied the charge. She said she was not interrogated but only asked whether Manoranjana Singh had sought professional advice from her with regard to the deal, to which she had said yes.
The contract papers were drafted in a way that would maximise returns for the Singhs. It included the clause that the advocate hired for the purpose would be paid by Sen.
Mrs Singh first contacted Mrs Chidambaram over the phone and then went to Chennai to meet her. The former asked the latter to make Saradha group invest Rs 42 crore in NE TV. Mrs Chidambaram agreed, says the letter, and received Rs 1 crore from the deal over a period of 1½ years. The entire payment was made through “cheques”, says a source close to Nalini.
For a lawyer of her standing, a fee of Rs 1 crore over a period of 1½ years, considering the cost of all the documentation involved as well, was normal, said the source. “There’s nothing legally wrong with payment received. Nalini has paid tax against the income,” the source said.
The Saradha group footed her bills when N Chidambaram came over to Kolkata in connection with the contract and stayed at a 5-star hotel in the duration. The advocate pressured Sen to invest Rs 42 crore in the television channel without thoroughly studying its financial viability, Sen’s letter alleges.
Nalini has represented Manoranjana legally in various other cases, says the letter. That is how the two knew each other and it was to serve an old client that Nalini exerted influence on Sen, the arrested Saradha group head’s letter reads. Members of the legal fraternity corroborate the claim that Nalini fought for Manoranjana on several occasions at the Company Law Board. The former union finance minister’s wife represented Mrs Singh legally for about a year.
However, Nalini gave Manoranjana a 70-page audit report that advised against the investment, a source close to Nalini said.
At the time of the deal, P Chidambaram was the country’s finance minister. Later in an interim report by his ministry, the then minister expressed the view that it would have been better if his wife had not got involved in such a deal. After his wife was questioned last week, the former minister said his wife had nothing to do with the Congress and that she would speak for herself, being a lawyer; Chidambaram said he had no other statement to give on the issue.
Manoranjana has already been interrogated by both the Enforcement Directorate and CBI. The CBI also raided the Singhs’ house in Guwahati. The investigating agency got to know of Nalini’s connection with the deal not only from Sen’s letter but also from the statements of the Singhs.
After the controversy over P Chidambaram and/or his son Karti’s involvement in the Aircel-Maxis deal, Saradha is yet another embarrassing news for the family as well as the Congress, of which the father and son are prominent members.