PMO declines to disclose former SEBI member’s letters

Replying to a PTI request for the letters under the Right to Information Act, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) cited a clause that bars disclosure of any information that “would lead to unwarranted intrusion of the privacy of the individual”

New Delhi: The government has declined to disclose two letters written to prime minister Manmohan Singh by former Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) member KM Abraham, who had alleged in another communication, interference by some corporates and top finance ministry officials in the working of the market regulator, reports PTI.

Replying to a PTI request for the letters under the Right to Information Act, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) cited a clause that bars disclosure of any information that “would lead to unwarranted intrusion of the privacy of the individual”.

The PMO was asked to provide copies of three letters by Mr Abraham to Mr Singh, along with the action taken report. However, the public authority provided a copy of only one of the three letters, dated 1 June 2011, written by the former SEBI member.

The others two communications—sent on 16th May and 24th June this year—were not provided to the applicant.

In his letter dated 1st June, Mr Abraham had alleged that some corporates and finance ministry officials were exploiting the vulnerability of the market regulator, which was investigating crucial cases involving prominent business houses.

“The regulatory institution is under duress and under severe attack from powerful corporate interests, operating concertedly to undermine SEBI... I believe these insidious attempts are orchestrated from the office of the Union ministry of finance,” Mr Abraham said in his nine-page letter.

However, the charges raised by Mr Abraham were rejected by the finance ministry.

In a statement issued on 30th August, the finance ministry had dismissed the allegations of interference in the market regulator’s job as “false, vexatious and defamatory”.

Replying to the request for disclosure of other two letters by Mr Abraham, the PMO said it would invade the privacy of the former SEBI official, who retired in July this year after his three-year stint.

“...Disclosure of the said communications would lead to unwarranted intrusion of the privacy of the individual and thus, these documents attract the relevant exemptions provided under section 8 (1) (j) of the Act,” the Central Public Information Officer of the PMO, Sanjukta Ray said.

The clause bars “information which relates to personal information the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest, or which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual”.

“The communications in questions have been received in the office in good faith/confidence from the sender and thus, the public authority and sender hold a fiduciary relationship.

Therefore, this record is not disclosable under section 8 (1) (e) of the RTI Act,” the PMO said in its reply.

The section exempts “information available to a person in his fiduciary relationship, unless the competent authority is satisfied that the larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such information”.

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2G scam: A Raja’s ex-aide stands by statement, indicts others also

Aseervartham Achary, Mr Raja’s former additional private secretary, told special CBI judge OP Saini Swan Telecom promoters Shahid Usman Balwa and Vinod Goenka and Unitech MD Sanjay Chandra, also accused in the 2G case, used to meet Mr Raja and his ex-private secretary RK Chandolia to pursue their cases with the environment ministry

New Delhi: A key second generation (2G) case witness and ex-aide of A Raja Monday told a Delhi court that the former telecom minister was in touch with Swan Telecom promoters Shahid Usman Balwa and Vinod Goenka and Unitech MD Sanjay Chandra and had cleared their projects during his stint with ministry of environment and forests in 2004-07, reports PTI.

Aseervartham Achary, Mr Raja's former additional private secretary, told special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) judge OP Saini these three corporate executives, also accused in the 2G case, used to meet Mr Raja and his ex-private secretary RK Chandolia to pursue their cases with the environment ministry.

Mr Achary, testifying as seventh prosecution witness, stood by his earlier statements and said that he was attached with Mr Raja from October 1999 to October 2008.

“The big construction projects cleared by Mr Raja as minister of environment... included Unitech, DB Realty and other companies. I do not know the procedure for making such clearances as I was not involved in these clearances.

“As far as Unitech is concerned, Sanjay Chandra and as far as DB Realty is concerned, Shahid Balwa and Vinod Goenka used to follow up. They used to meet Mr Raja and Mr Chandolia on regular basis to pursue their cases in ministry of environment and forests...” Mr Achary said, adding, they also used to visit Mr Raja’s official residence during September-December 2007.

He identified Mr Raja’s signatures on two letters of 2 November 2007, addressed to the prime minister and said one of the letters was dictated and typed at the official residence of Mr Raja after 9pm.

“This letter (second letter) was dictated and typed at the official residence of Mr Raja after 9pm and before 11.30pm.

It is not usual for me to remain present at official residence of Mr Raja at these hours. I was called to his residence by Mr Raja over phone,” he said.

Discussing the drafting of the letter, the witness said “...When I reached the residence of Mr Raja, he told me that a letter has come from the prime minister of India and he has to reply back then and there. He asked me to come and let us prepare the reply. I remained at the residence of Raja till about midnight. The reply was dispatched after its preparation at about 11.30pm.” 

The witness, whose recording of statement would continue Tuesday, also identified Mr Raja’s signatures on a letter of 26 December 2007 addressed to the prime minister.

On the issue of Kalaignar TV, to which DB Realty had allegedly paid Rs200 crore bribe, Mr Achary said that Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam MP Kanimozhi and its MD Sharad Kumar, accused in the case, were pursuing the matter regarding the clearance, required to launch a channel, from information and broadcasting ministry.

He also said corporate lobbyist Niira Radia had called him (Mr Achary) on phone on 18 September 2008 to convey a message to Raja about putting Kalaignar TV in the Tata Sky bouquet.

“On one occasion, she (Ms Radia) called me because she could not get through to A Raja on phone. She wanted me to convey to Mr Raja about putting Kalaignar TV in the Tata Sky platform.

“She said that she had arranged for putting Kalaignar TV in the Tata Sky platform. This conversation between me and Ms Radia took place on 18 September 2008,” he said.

Regarding former telecom secretary Siddharth Behura, also a co-accused, Mr Achary said Mr Behura was the additional secretary in the ministry of environment and forests during Mr Raja’s tenure and joined the Department of Telecommunication (DoT) on 1 January 2008 as the secretary.

Mr Achary also told the court that Mr Raja was under “very much tension” during December 2007 and he had seen him shouting at former telecom secretary Mr Behura’s predecessor DS Mathur.

Discussing the events, the witness said, “During December 2007, A Raja was under very much tension and on one occasion I heard him shouting as DS Mathur. On hearing this, I opened the door and I saw Mr Raja shouting and arguing with Mr Mathur. I closed the door and came to my seat. I asked Mr Raja as to why he was shouting at Mr Mathur and he replied that this man is not listening to me and that is why, I am shouting.” 

After the prosecutor concluded recording Mr Achary’s statement, senior advocate Ram Jethmalani, appearing for Ms Kanimozhi, cross-examined him for few minutes before the court adjourned the hearing for Tuesday.

Mr Jethmalani started cross-examining Mr Achary by complimenting him and said, “I have heard that you are a fighter against corruption”.

“It is correct that I am a fighter against corruption and do not mince words as far as fight against corruption is concerned. It is also correct that as a good citizen, I will make every sacrifice to expose corruption, as when as, I come across it,” the witness replied.

Mr Jethmalani said he was not an enemy of Mr Achary but was seeking clarifications on what he has said while recording his testimony in the court.

Mr Achary, who left the telecom ministry in July 2008, said he had decided to leave Mr Raja in 2005 itself and time and again, had requested the minister to relieve him so that he could go back to his parent department (ministry of railways) to work as a full-fledged section officer and also to devote time to his family.

“However, Mr Raja was reluctant to relieve me and at last I told him I have to leave him. It is correct that finally, I asked him relieve me in July 2008 and within three months of that, I was relieved and joined my parent ministry, that is, Railway Board,” he said.

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Follow KYC norms or face penalty, RBI tells banks

Banks are required to strictly adhere to KYC norms, Anti-Money Laundering standards, Combating of Financing of Terrorism, obligation of banks under Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002, the RBI said in a notification

Mumbai: The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on Monday asked banks to strictly follow the Know Your Customer (KYC) norms or Anti-Money Laundering (AML) standards, failing which it will take penal action, reports PTI.

“Any contravention thereof or non-compliance shall attract penalties under Banking Regulation Act, 1949,” RBI said in a notification.

Banks are required to strictly adhere to KYC norms, Anti-Money Laundering (AML) standards, Combating of Financing of Terrorism (CFT), obligation of banks under Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), 2002, it said.

RBI said banks are required to prepare a risk profile of each customer and apply enhanced due diligence measures on higher risk customers.

Banks and financial institutions should have policies, controls and procedures, duly approved by their boards, in place to effectively manage and mitigate their risk adopting a risk-based approach, it said.

As a corollary, banks would be required to adopt enhanced measures for products, services and customers with a medium or high risk rating, it added.

In this regard, it said, Indian Banks’ Association (IBA) has taken initiative in assessment of money laundering and financial terror and risk in the banking sector.

The IBA guidance also provides an indicative list of high risk customers, products, services and geographies. Banks may use the same as guidance in their own risk assessment, it added.

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