Aircel-Maxis deal: Will 'arbitration relief' throw spanner in CBI's works?

Aircel-Maxis deal: Will 'arbitration relief' throw spanner in CBI's works?

The CBI in that FIR, filed a day before the Maran brothers’ (Dayanidhi’s elder brother is Kalanidhi Maran, Head of the SUN TV Network) residences and office were searched in Chennai on October 10, had for the first time named Kalanidhi and Dayanidhi Maran. The latter was Union Telecom Minister during 2004-07, before A Raja, also of DMK, took over. 

The crux of the FIR, revolving around the findings of the Patil Committee report and other materials the CBI unearthed in the course of its investigations, points the needle of suspicion towards Dayanidhi Maran, who allegedly subtly coerced Aircel Televentures’ former owner and millionaire-businessman, C Sivasankaran, into selling his majority stake to Maxis Berhad, top mobile communications provider in Malaysia.

The CBI’s FIR has outlined the roles of both Dayanidhi Maran and his brother Kalanidhi, in “restricting the business environment” for the Siva Group of companies headed by Sivasankaran, vis-à-vis offloading the latter’s stake in favour of Malaysia’s Maxis for allegedly “malafide considerations”. The younger Maran had resigned as Union Textiles Minister in the UPA-II Government on July 7 this year, it may be recalled.

The quid-pro-quo was, as per CBI’s FIR, when Maxis group, associated with the Malaysian business tycoon T Ananda Krishnan, had later through Astro All Asia Networks, a sister concern of Maxis, invested heavily to pick up 20 per cent stake in SUN TV’s DTH (direct-to-home) venture.

While these are still matters under investigation, a fresh ‘Malaysian angle’ to the case has emerged, with a very recent report in a top Singapore-based English Newspaper (The Straits Times), stating that an Arbitration proceeding in Singapore had ruled in late September, rejecting “claims of impropriety” in the Aircel-Maxis deal. This, the paper said was now the bedrock of Ananda Krishnan’s defense against the CBI’s charges. Besides the Maran brothers, the CBI’s FIR in the extended 2G case also includes Ralph Marshall, Director of Astro, and Ananda Krishnan.

A multi-billionaire celebrity as revealed by the famous ‘Forbes’ magazine, the 72-year-old Ananda Krishnan, a Malaysian businessman of Tamil origins, has an MBA from Harvard that puts him in a class by itself. Topping it are his wide philanthropic activities, Forbes adds.

Fresh hurdles likely

The ruling of the three-member Arbitration panel in Singapore, could pose fresh hurdles to the CBI, as it enables Ananda Krishnan to refute the investigative agency’s charges in the Aircel-Maxis deal.

Significantly, the CBI’s probe in this regard had taken a leap on the basis of Sivasankaran’s statement to it in New Delhi few months back, charging Dayanidhi Maran with applying ‘coercion’ in parting with his stake in ‘Aircel’ by delaying his (Siva’s) pending UAS license applications here. Hence, the impact of the Arbitration award on the probe remains to be seen.

Repeated attempts by Deccan Herald to confirm the reported Singapore Arbitration award, from ‘Maxis’ headquarters in Kuala Lumpur were of no avail. An e-mail to Malaysia’s biggest cell phone service provider also did not elicit any response till going to print.

But, sources in Sivasankaran’s office in Chennai, denied any knowledge of such an award decreed by the Singapore Arbitration panel. “To our knowledge, nothing is happening in Malaysia; we are not aware of any such legal process having taken place. Only Maxis can speak; as far as Aircel is concerned, the sale is over,” a company source not wishing to be named told Deccan Herald here.

Interestingly, the Singapore Government’s website has described its ‘Arbitration’ process as part of its robust legal system’s Alternative Dispute Resolution mechanisms, to resolve “disputes between parties outside the courts.” The parties “refer their differences to one or more neutral person or persons (namely the Arbitrators or Arbitral Tribunal whose decision they must agree to be bound by.” Just like court proceedings, the website says the decisions “made in arbitral proceedings are binding.” However, “arbitral proceedings are not open to the public, making it particularly suited for commercial disputes, where confidentiality is important to the parties involved,” it says.

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