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ED attaches Devas Multimedia’s assets in money laundering case

LiveMint logoLiveMint 28-02-2017 Shaswati Das

New Delhi: The Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Tuesday attached the assets worth of Rs79 crore Bengaluru’s Devas Multimedia Ltd. under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), the agency said in a statement.

The agency also claimed that three directors (or past directors) of the firm Ranganathan Mohan, Desaraju Venugopal, and D. Nataraj, had agreed that all was not above board in the agreement entered into by Devas with Antrix Corp. Ltd, the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organization (Isro), in 2005.

Mint has not seen the statements of the directors. A Devas spokesperson said on Tuesday evening that its executives could not be immediately reached for comment.

The case is a controversial one. In 2005, Devas and Antrix signed an agreement under which the former would lease spectrum from two satellites that Isro would launch. Devas agreed to pay Antrix, $300 million for the use of the spectrum for 12 years. The agreement was extendable by another 12 years.

However, after it discovered some procedural lapses in the structuring of the deal, the United Progressive Alliance scrapped it in 2011. It was coping with the fallout of the 2G scam—irregularities in the allotment of spectrum and licences to telcos in 2008—and feared another scandal.

Since then, Indian agencies, including the Central Bureau of Investigation and the ED have investigated the matter, seeking to establish wrong-doing. Meanwhile, Devas has, in keeping with its agreement with Antrix, sought and has been awarded damages by two arbitration courts.

In June last year, the ED slapped a Rs1200 crore Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) violation notice on Devas.

Last July, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in the Hague ruled that India was liable to pay compensation to Devas.

In September 2015, the International Court of Arbitration (ICA) of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) did the same.

Soon after the Hague court’s decision, CBI filed its charge sheet in the case.

“From the reports we have seen, the charge-sheet is just the latest mala fide act that the Indian government has taken against Devas and its shareholders in retaliation for their exercising their legal rights arising out of the illegal annulment of the Devas-Antrix contract,” Devas’s chairman, Lawrence Babbio said in a statement then.

In January, the ED raided the premises of Devas in Bengaluru in connection with the case.

“The premises of Devas were searched by the ED on January 23 and thereafter we recorded the statements of director (finance) Ranganathan Mohan, founder director Desaraju Venugopal, and D. Nataraj, ex-director and they agreed to the crime committed. Two other directors who masterminded the crime, Ramachandran Viswanathan and M. Chandrasekhar are in the US,” said ED spokesperson Anil Rawal.

The ED said Devas’ plan was to raise investment on the strength of its agreement with Antrix and then siphon this out of India “in the guise of investment in subsidiary company, business support services and legal fee.”

Rawal claimed that Devas “falsely claimed that it had ownership and intellectual property rights to use the technology for delivering multimedia services and entered into an agreement with Isro for the same. A few employees of Isro also conspired with Devas and raised foreign investment of Rs579 crore.”

The ED claimed that Devas had incorporated a US subsidiary, Devas Multimedia America Inc to which it transferred Rs 76.19 crore as investment and, subsequently, Rs 180.77 crore for business support services.

The company has spent Rs 230.11 crore on legal fees, the ED said.

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