New Delhi, July 1 (IANS) The CBI on Wednesday grilled former communications minister Dayanidhi Maran for over seven hours in a case against him for installing over 700 phone lines, including 300 high data capacity BSNL lines, at his Chennai residence, asking him more than 200 questions, agency officials said. He will be questioned again on Thursday.
Maran, who was communications minister in the first UPA government (2004-07), reached the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) headquarters at about 10 a.m. and was questioned by the Special Task Force (STF) between 11 a.m. and 6.30 p.m., an official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told IANS.
However, an official privy to the investigation asked how much money from the state exchequer was lost because of the scam, pegged the figure at Rs.1.80 crore – much lower than the earlier Rs.440 crore.
Another CBI official told IANS that the total number of phones at his Boat Club residence in Chennai were actually 770, including of private operators, not over 300 as mentioned in the FIR.
The CBI had registered an FIR in the case on July 23, 2013. Till date, however, only three people have been arrested in the matter, while the DMK leader’s name is not mentioned in the FIR as an accused.
The STF team in its seven-and-a-half-hour interrogation of Maran asked him if the high data capacity BSNL telecom lines were used to benefit the Sun TV group, owned by his elder brother, Kalanithi Maran.
“We have asked Maran to explain the misuse of 770 lines, including the 323 high-data capacity BSNL telecom lines being used at his Boat House residence in Chennai, and the mobile phone lines being used by him in Chennai and Delhi,” said a CBI official, who did not want to be named.
The former minister had been called for questioning on Monday, but but did not turn up. On Tuesday, he approached the Madras High Court for anticipatory bail which was granted.
Maran was also asked whether these high capacity lines, in which a stealth cable was used, were used illicitly by Sun TV channel to transfer huge amounts of data without paying for the service.
The agency’s investigation also centres on the fact that the system was devised in such a way that except for the “authorised BSNL staff”, no one in the state-owned telecom company was aware of it.
The interrogators also asked Maran if he had used his network when he was a minister to install the high-speed ISDN phone lines, and why he facilitated these illegal lines despite knowing that it would cause a huge loss to the BSNL.
Maran, who faced several rounds of questioning, was was also asked to explain the answers given by his aides – former additional private secretary V. Gowthaman, Sun TV’s chief technical officer S. Kannan and electrician L.S. Ravi who were earlier arrested by the agency in the case. The Madras High Court has granted bail to them.
CBI officials, part of the STF, also said Maran was asked if he had pressured BSNL officials to install these lines.
An STF member told IANS that Maran will be questioned again on Thursday, and has to reach the CBI office at 10.30 a.m.
Maran was questioned in January this year and October 2014, while Kalanithi was also questioned by the STF in September 2014.
The CBI had started its investigation in 2011 – nearly four years after the matter surfaced. In 2007, the agency had recommended action to the then telecom secretary but nothing happened.
(Rajnish Singh can be contacted at email@example.com)