New Delhi, Jan 18 (PTI) The government will use the Supreme Court order calling the 2005 deal between ISRO’s commercial arm Antrix and privately-owned Devas Multimedia a fraud, to counter seizure of its properties, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said on Tuesday as she launched a blistering attack on the Congress for handing over airwaves used by the defence to the private firm for pittance.
“It is a fraud of Congress, by Congress (and) for Congress,” the minister told reporters as she read out paragraphs from the Supreme Court’s January 17 decision allowing winding up of Devas Multimedia because of the fraud.
Antrix — the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) — entered into an agreement with Devas for providing multimedia services to mobile users, for which it was given S-band satellite spectrum without the knowledge of the Union Cabinet, she said. The Congress took six years to cancel the deal and the then government did not initiate steps to fight the arbitration proceedings the private company brought against the cancellation, she added.
The Congress-led UPA did not cite national security to fight the arbitrations brought by Devas, Sitharaman said and called the party “master of corruption”.
Devas initiated arbitration against the annulment at the International Chambers of Commerce (ICC). Two separate arbitrations were also initiated under the Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) by Mauritius investors in Devas Multimedia under the India-Mauritius BIT and by Deutsche Telekom — a German company — under the India Germany BIT. India lost all three disputes and has to pay a total of USD 1.2 billion in damages.
Its shareholders are pursuing Indian assets abroad to recover award and have got a French court order for freezing Indian properties in Paris and got partial rights over funds maintained by Air India in Canada.
The Supreme Court has given a comprehensive verdict upholding the liquidation of Devas ordered by the insolvency court, she said, adding this would be cited in the international courts to challenge enforcement actions of the private firm.
“No country which respects rule of law will ignore these facts,” she said, citing the apex court observation that it was a case of fraud of a huge magnitude which cannot be brushed under the carpet as a private lis.
Antrix had approached the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) seeking liquidation of Devas. Last year, NCLT ordered liquidation of Devas observing that the firm appeared to have been incorporated with fraudulent intentions. Devas appealed against the order before NCLAT which in September 2021 upheld the liquidation. Devas filed an appeal before the Supreme Court which upheld the liquidation, she said.
Calling Congress a “master of corruption”, Sitharaman asked if the party’s leader Rahul Gandhi had “tore” the Antrix-Devas deal papers in 2011. He and the Congress owes answers to the nation, she said.
The minister was apparently referring to the incident of Rahul Gandhi tearing an ordinance on land acquisition in public in 2013. The ordinance had been cleared by the then UPA II government that was led by Congress.
The Antrix-Devas deal was a fraud perpetuated by the Congress on the nation where spectrum used by defence forces was given for pittance, she said. “This is the level of shameless corruption.” The 2005 agreement was “a fraud on people of India, fraud against the country,” she said, adding the government is fighting in every court so that Devas does not get away with Antrix deal fraud and taxpayers’ money is saved.
Sitharaman said the commercial terminal award was for a total of USD 1 billion while USD 93.3 million plus cost and interest was awarded against India under the arbitration brought under the India-Germany BIT. Besides, USD 111.2 million plus cost and interest was awarded in the arbitration under India-Mauritius BIT.
“After nearly 10-11 years of struggle, the Supreme Court has come out with the decision on the case. This indicates how the Congress party has misused its position when in power,” the minister said.
She also questioned the Congress party for allowing blatant sale of resources of the government and people of India for pittance.
“We are fighting to save taxpayers’ money which otherwise would have gone to pay for the scandalous Antrix-Devas deal,” she added. PTI DP ANZ RAM
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