WHO IS NIRA RADIA?
Nira was born to Sudesh and Iqbal Memon, a Hindu trader, on 19 November 1960.The sudden rise of Radia raised many eyebrows, she has created Rs-300 crore venture in 9 years.
CBI officials claim they have evidence that she once worked with data servers hosted out of Ukraine and had latest Israeli anti-surveillance gizmos running on the telephones used by her and her close aides. The agency has in its possession 180 hours of candid conversations that Radia, as chairperson of Vaishnavi Corporate Communications(earlier Big League) and its sister organisations like Vitcom, Neucomp, and Neosys — had with politicians, bureaucrats and a handful of high-profile journalists. These could put her at the heart of the telecom scam that claimed the cabinet berth of Andimuthu Raja, who is accused of selling lucrative licences at dirt-cheap prices.
The natural heir to the family business, Radia also worked with Scotland Yard on a job-to-job basis providing escort cover to its young recruits. In London, she married Janak Radia of a wealthy trading family. At some point, she was also marestried to the grandson of Rao Birendra Singh, Haryana’s chief minister in the 1960s, and went by the name of Niira Yadav.In 1996, Radia fled to India from UK after a host of shell companies with paid-up capital as low as £100 went bust and came under scrutiny for money laundering.
First she worked with Sahara supremo Subrata Roy’s blue-eyed boy Uttam Kumar Bose, who was managing Air Sahara. “She worked with us for some time,” admits Abhijit Sarkar, one of the directors of Sahara India. But Bose fell out of favour with Roy when aircraft lease rentals were found to be as much as 50 percent higher than market rates. Thereafter, Radia ventured out on her own. She harboured an ambition to take over the defunct ModiLuft and rename it Magic Air, but failed to get the necessary clearances.
The CBI is also probing what it calls her nexus with a slew of former bureaucrats whose brains she picked to bend rules to the benefit of her clients. These included conglomerates like the Tatas, Reliance, ITC and Mahindras, and big-bucks entities like Lavasa, Star TV, Unitech, Elder Health Care, Haldia Petrochemicals, Emami and the HIV/AIDS initiative of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
This week, one of her confidants, Pradip Baijal, the former telecom and disinvestment secretary who started the country’s much-hyped disinvestment process, was questioned by the CBI for over four hours for his alleged investments in African nations like Guinea and Senegal.
“The charges are serious,” admits ED’s Rajeshwar Singh, refusing to reveal details. CBI and ED officials told that there is enough evidence to prove Radia’s links with retired bureaucrats like Ajay Dua, former secretary, Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP), CM Vasudev, former finance secretary, SK Narula, former Airports Authority of India chairman, and Akbar Jung, the former civil aviation secretary.
The IT investigations revealed that apart from managing the telecom licences for builder Unitech, among others, Radia also handled and facilitated cross-border transfer of funds. Intercepted conversations between Radia and the allottees of the new telecom licences suggest that she was a key adviser in staggering the inflow of funds from outside India so that no impression could be created that there was a windfall gain to the companies.
Radia was instrumental in sourcing funds — as much as Rs. 1,600 crore — for Unitech, one of the controversial beneficiaries of the telecom licences. The company eventually sold a majority stake in the telecom venture to Norway’s Telenor for seven times the licence fee it paid.
Worse, some of the conversations link Radia to Anil Agarwal of the London-based Vedanta group that has drawn flak for violating environmental norms at its billion-dollar mining projects in Orissa’s Kalahandi district.
Tellingly, the tapes also establish her links with Sunil Arora, an IAS officer based in Rajasthan and used by Radia to gain access to his batchmates in various ministries. The conversations are a part of the CBI notes to the Supreme Court.Arora, who sacrificed his second tenure as chairman and managing director (CMD) of Indian Airlines by attempting to blow the whistle on Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel, seems to have opened many doors for Radia across India. During his tenure as the CMD of Indian Airlines (2003-05), seven aircraft leases were found to have been channelled to companies that had Radia’s front companies acting as agents. “We have evidence that substantial payments were made to Arora’s Meerut-based brother by Radia’s company,” said Akshat Jain, a senior IT official.
There are many who claim Radia still nurses a grudge against Jet Airways head Naresh Goyal and Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel for bringing her flights of fancy to naught. While Radia never got security clearance as the promoter for Crown Air, she came in close contact with the then aviation minister Ananth Kumar of the BJP.
Radia played a role in funding Agnisaakshi, a movie produced by Binda Thackeray, son of Shiv Sena supremo Balasaheb Thackeray. Panjabi was close to the Thackeray family and is tipped to have been a former part-owner of Sea Rock Hotel in Bandra. (Sea Rock was one of the sites bombed in the 1992 serial blasts in the city. The property, which changed hands multiple times, is now run by the Tata Group’s Indian Hotels Company.)
With a never-say-die attitude and assiduous networking, Radia developed a close rapport with Singapore Airlines, helping it set up a maintenance, repair and overhaul facility in India. The change in government policy that disallowed foreign airlines to enter India was also rumoured to have been at the behest of her foes Goyal and Patel.
Late BJP leader Pramod Mahajan played a crucial role in helping the Tata-led management invest Rs-1,200 crore of VSNL’s reserves in the ailing Tata Teleservices.Radia’s biggest break came when she got acquainted with Ratan Tata’s close aide RK Krishna Kumar, the man trusted by Tata to translate his airline dreams into reality.
FORMER DELHI Commissioner of Police KK Paul was a close friend of Radia’s, and got his post under the NDA four months before the Congress-led UPA came to power. When a former Maharashtra DGP was made to quit the post of Mumbai Police Commissioner overnight in February 2007, there was a strong buzz that Radia was lobbying hard to get him a plush posting at the CBI or an intelligence agency in Delhi. Intelligence sources do not rule out Radia’s hand in the controversy surrounding former Mumbai police commissioner Hassan Gafoor, who was the top choice to become Maharashtra DGP before a damaging interview appeared in a leading weekly magazine.
Radia fought a bitter, hostile battle with Dayanidhi Maran, who was upset with Ratan Tata’s reported patronage of maverick businessman C Sivasankaran.Her biggest break came when a rift developed between the Marans and the Karunanidhi family, which resulted in the suave and progressive Dayanidhi Maran’s unceremonious exit from the telecom ministry. It is believed that Radia once flew to Chennai and organised a closed-door meeting between the DMK supremo, his son MK Stalin and Tata.
Radia is believed to have engineered a privilege motion against Praful Patel in Parliament’s monsoon session of 2005. An unheard of periodical, UT Independent, saw a sudden increase in circulation after dubbing the suave Patel India’s bidi king.
Radia was also the non-executive chairmanship of Magic Air — Radia floated Neosys with Baijal, Vasudev and Narula as partners. A couple of Chinese companies including telecom major Huawei were being advised by Radia’s company.
At the same time, her unhindered growth surprised many. Windfall gains came from managing a massive Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) public relations mandate from Mukesh Ambani.Radia formed Neucom to manage the RIL account. With India’s two largest industrialists in her fold, earning her a rumoured Rs 100 crore per annum, Radia left every established player far behind within six years of setting up shop.
She worked closely with Telugu Desam Party (TDP) chief Chandrababu Naidu and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.