Karti’s Five ‘Friends’ Hold Key To Alleged ‘Benami’ Properties Abroad; They Are The Ones To Watch

by R Jagannathan - Mar 2, 2018 10:37 AM +05:30 IST
Karti’s Five ‘Friends’ Hold Key To Alleged ‘Benami’ Properties Abroad; They Are The Ones To WatchKarti Chidambaram and his father, P Chidambaram
  • The answers to the riddle lie with Karti’s friends. They are the people to watch.

    And a wild card worth playing is to attach ASCPL properties in India, and obtain court letters to seal the properties of its subsidiaries abroad.

In the ongoing brouhaha over the arrest of Karti Chidambaram, where a Delhi judge yesterday (1 March) allowed the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to interrogate him in custody for five days, we tend to gloss over four tell-tale points. They are:

One, most of the alleged assets of the family may lie abroad. If you want an indicative list of the kind of assets held, you can get them from this story in The Pioneer, which talked of ownership of a large property in Cambridge, UK, among other things. Moreover, there are payments received from Diageo by Advantage Strategic Consultants Pvt Ltd (ASCPL, a firm indirectly owned by Karti till 2011). Diageo bought United Spirits from Vijay Mallya, which indicates a Chidambaram link to the absconding liquor baron who owes Rs 9,000 crore to banks on account of his failed airline Kingfisher. Then there are commission arrangements with a Russian company for deals done through the Indian Overseas Bank (Chennai-based nationalised bank), and payments from other companies receiving FDI approvals during P Chidambaram’s tenure in the finance ministry. The CBI has given a list of 25 properties abroad allegedly owned by Karti Chidambaram in a sealed cover to the Supreme Court. According to Subramanian Swamy, who claimed to have the details of what the income-tax department discovered in raids on Karti, is quoted by The Pioneer as saying, “the companies, which transferred money to Karti’s ASCPL are Claris Life Sciences, INX Media, Diageo Scotland Limited, which acquired fugitive Vijay Mallya’s UB Spirits, Katra Group, Arcelor Mittal-linked Saksoft, and Reflections belonging to Spark Capital Advisory Private Limited.”

Two, such large acquisitions of properties, if proved to belong to Karti or his father, whether directly or indirectly, could not have been the result of illegal incomes from just one or two minor deals (including INX Media and Diageo); the scam would have happened over large segments of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) years.

Three, the real problem is not just Karti’s links to these problems, for if that were to be the case, there was no need for the former Finance Minister Chidambaram to defend him so tenaciously, or for the entire Congress machinery – from Kapil Sibal to Abhishek Manu Singhvi – to fight for Karti Chidambaram. Clearly, there is much at stake for the Congress and Chidambaram, Sr, too. Point to note is that Karti is not known to have the kind of business capability to accumulate so many assets abroad. His capabilities emerge directly from those of his father, and the latter’s wider influence in the Congress party, and the Congress ecosystem. That the stakes are too high for both the Chidambarams and the Congress party is obvious from the fact that despite, repeated dares by S Gurumurthy, he is not being sued. Father and son lack the guts for it.

Four, and most important, if the link between the Chidambarams and their properties abroad is to be unravelled, the keys lie with five friends of Karti – who are the people who allegedly own Advantage Strategic Consulting, its Singapore subsidiary, and various assets abroad. These five are Mohanan Rajesh, who owns Ausbridge, which owns 40 per cent of Advantage; and CBN Reddy, Padma Vishwanathan, Ravi Vishwanathan and Bhaskararaman, who own the majority 60 per cent.

It is the last four who are known to have made irrevocable wills seeking to transfer the whole of their holdings in Advantage to Chidambaram’s grand-daughter, Aditi, and Karti Chidambaram is the executor of the wills.

To call these five “friends” of Karti is stretching things a bit, for while they may have been friends before ASCPL went to them, when it comes to ultimate control of the properties of Advantage, there is actually no trust between these friends. Commonsense tells us that irrevocable wills transferring these properties back to the Chidambarams – specifically to Karti’s daughter - would not have been needed. And such convoluted control plans could not but have emerged from the fertile minds of a sharp-minded lawyer. Was this lawyer Chidambaram himself?

If at all the CBI is to crack the case, it will need to track these five alleged benami holders of the properties of Karti abroad; if, at all, anyone is likely to flee the country, it is these five people. Karti and his father won’t flee, for if that happens, that is not only the end of Chidambaram’s political career, it would also knock the wind out of the Congress’ sails in its bid to target the Modi government for letting Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi and Lalit Modi flee India.

The answers to the riddle lie with Karti’s friends. They are the people to watch. And a wild card worth playing is to attach ASCPL properties in India, and obtain court letters to seal the properties of its subsidiaries abroad.

Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.
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