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INX Media owned by Mukesh Ambani, says Peter Mukherjee; Why was Mukesh Ambani never questioned on the Money Laundering & Bribery Probe and his alleged ownership of INX Media?

In a complete twist that is nothing short of a Hindi Movie plot, Former television executive and the prime accused in the INX Media case, Peter Mukherjee, in a statement to the Enforcement Directorate, has claimed that Mukesh Ambani and his friends owned INX Media. 

The case dates back to 2010, when the Enforcement Directorate, a financial crime-fighting agency, had registered a case under FEMA (Foreign Exchange Management Act) against INX Media.

INX Media was under probe for diverting foreign direct investment by three Mauritius-based companies in INX Media to its subsidiaries without prior approval of the FIPB.

While the case against INX Media is still ongoing for alleged money laundering, in 2007, the then Union Minister P Chidambaram and his son Karti Chidambaram had been implicated by the investigating agencies basis the statements given by Peter Mukherjee and his wife Indrani Mukherjee; P Chidambaram was granted bail after 105 days of custody in Tihar Jail on December 4, 2019.

The firm which is in the bribery scandal has gained fresh headlines as Peter Mukherjee has now stated that INX Media belonged to Mukesh Ambani and his known counterparts – Friends and Family – and the statement implies that the bribe that the ED alleges was paid to P Chidambaram’s son Karti was allegedly done for an Ambani Firm.

How Mukesh Ambani and Reliance Industries escaped the media coverage in the case?

INX Media was founded by Indrani Mukherjee and her husband Peter Mukherjee in 2007. The latter was the Chief Strategy Officer of the firm. 

However, he quit the company in 2009 but was arrested in November 2015 by CBI in connection and involvement in the Sheena Bora Murder case and was in judicial custody but released on bail on March 20 this year.

This controversial media organization has had extensive coverage in the news media, coupled with the sensational developments wherein both Indrani Mukherjee and Peter Mukherjee were arrested for the alleged involvement in the murder of Indrani’s daughter Sheena Bora.

Both owned large shares in the companies in the INX Media Group; in 2017, the CBI had registered an FIR on the suspected irregularities committed by persons associated with the INX Media group. 

It is alleged that they received funds to the tune of Rs 305 crore from outside India in 2007. However, it had received permission for a little under Rs 5 Crore by the FIPB (Foreign Investment Promotion Board), then under the finance ministry.

P Chidambaram then was the Finance Minister in the first United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government led by Manmohan Singh.

The case took a turn when the ED alleged they had found documents in the computer of Karti, Chidambaram’s son, which indicated that payments were made to firms owned and controlled by Karti and it was during this period that the FIPB, under the Finance Ministry granted INX Media Group approval to receive funds from abroad.

In 2019, Indrani Mukherjee had claimed in a statement to the CBI that Karti had asked for a bribe of US$ 1 million in 2006. 

However, it is ironic that only a few news media reported the involvement of India’s biggest private firm Reliance Industries Limited (RIL), headed by Mukesh Ambani, in this entire saga.

In the statement given by Peter Mukherjee to ED officials in 2018, it is not clear whether the ED investigated to verify or authenticate the statement given by peter Mukherjee on the firm’s ownership. 

  • No investigation has been initiated to know if Mukesh Ambani was the firm’s owner and if he was aware that a bribe had been paid to smoothen the deal with FIPB. Further, Peter Mukherjee claims that they were day to day dealings with Reliance Executives.

The reason as to why this information has not received widespread news coverage or to raise questions to Mukesh Ambai and his ownership in the firms is not known.

In fact, last month, in an extraordinary move, the Modi Government gave the agency’s head a one – year extension of tenure. 

  • What is even more astonishing is the fact that while ED had questioned and even arrested P Chidambaram and his son Karti based on the statements of Peter Mukherjee, it has not sought any clarification or summoned from either Mukesh Ambani or his associates. 
  • Also, Peter Mukherjee has alleged that while both he and his wife held 10% sweat equity, 40% was held by Indrani in ‘holding Capacity’ for Mukesh Ambani and his family and friends.
  • He also claimed NSR PE, a private equity firm, owned another 20% of the firm, was a vehicle for Ambani’s friends. 
  • This makes Mukesh Ambani the majority shareholder and investor in INX Media, holding close to almost 60% of the shares. 
  • Further, Peter Mukherjee has also said that Mukesh Ambani was in direct touch with senior politicians like P Chidambaram and his son Karti and that their daily dealings with Reliance were done through Reliance executives – all of whom are confidants of Mukesh Ambani.

 

Both Peter Mukherjee and Indrani Mukherjee had made a handwritten statement; the former made the written statement to Vivek Maheshwari, an assistant director, on March 7, 2018, while Indrani made and submitted her statement to assistant director Sandeep Thapliyal on October 5, 2019.

A handwritten statement made and recorded by an assistant director level officer under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) is considered admissible evidence in court. 

Why has Mukesh Ambani and his company Reliance Industries escaped the probe?

Even though the two former INX Media executives gave a written statement, it is not clear as to whether the two were further questioned or any clarification was sought on the alleged ownership of INX Media by Mukesh Ambani, as part of the charge sheet filed in court by ED in June this year. The cognizance of the charge sheet is yet to be taken by the court. 

Also, it is being said that the duo had also told the agency that they had met P Chidambaram ( who it is alleged had told them to help his son with his business), but the fact that Ambani was the owner of the company and that Indrani was, in fact, a ‘Benami’ for the Reliance owner was never ‘leaked’ to the media. 

It is indeed surprising as to why even after all this information divulged by the two – Peter Mukherjee and Indrani Mukherjee – that it was, in fact, Mukesh Ambani who was the actual owner of the company that is in the center of a bribery probe, is yet to be questioned while both P Chidambaram and his son Karti have had investigations against them.

Is this another case of Modi Government favoritism towards Mukesh Ambani and his company Reliance Industries, as the former government has repeatedly been accused of alleged favoritism towards the latter?

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