Lawyer Nalini Chidambaram, wife of former Union finance minister P Chidambaram, was questioned by the CBI in connection with the multi-crore Saradha scam, almost 18 months after her name cropped up in a letter written by the main accused Sudipto Sen.
Sen, who was the Saradha group’s chief was arrested in April and lodged in jail. The agency's action comes in connection with the around Rs 1 crore legal fee reportedly paid to Nalini by the Saradha group with regard to the matter of acquiring a TV channel in Guwahati, sources said.
In his letter of April 6, 2013, Sen had said that Nalini, on behalf of Manoranjana Sinh, the former wife of Congress minister Matang Sinh, tried to strike a deal with him to buy a channel in the Northeast.
“Manoranjana Sinh contacted us for selling her Positive Group to us and took me to Chennai in the chamber of Nalini Chidambaram,” he claimed.
Sen claimed Nalini herself prepared a legal agreement wherein she was the sole arbitrator if any dispute arose. “Nalini Chidambaram fixed her consultancy and during a period of one and half years, more than Rs 1 crore has been given to her,” he alleged.
Sources said even though she was Manoranjana’s lawyer, the consultancy fee was paid by Saradha group. Sources close to Nalini said the amount paid was in a transparent manner. “The near Rs 1 crore fee was for one year’s assistance,” they said. Nalini had advised her client against the Rs 42-crore investment by the group to acquire the TV channel.
Sen had also claimed that whenever Nalini visited Kolkata along with Manoranjana, he paid her airfare and stay in the Taj Hotel. He also said Manoranjana told him Nalini was the then finance minister’s wife and if they stood with him, then he would have “great clout”. He added that Nalini never assured him anything but without assessing his financial strength, she also “pressurised” him on the deal.
Nalini did not respond to either calls or messages for her reaction to the developments. Sources close to her denied that the CBI had questioned her. “It is totally false and no such thing has happened,” the sources said. They claimed that the CBI only obtained a 70-page report prepared by her in connection with the plans for the TV channel acquisition.
The examination of Nalini by the CBI comes close on the heels of the CBI charge sheet in the Aircel-Maxis deal in which the agency said it was probing the circumstances that led to the clearance given by Chidambaram for the $ 800 million deal, though he was not competent do so.