India to charge former ISRO satellite officials

India’s Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) has said it will proceed with charges against key officials at India’s Space Research Organisation (ISRO) over an alleged fraud and loss of millions. An earlier decision by India’s fraud-busting Enforcement Directorate last June confirmed its view that a deal between ISRO and its commercial subsidiary Antrix, were illegal. Antrix is an anglicised version of Antariksha, which means ‘space’.

In essence the long-running case revolves around a deal between Antrix and Devas Multimedia over transponder leases on two ISRO satellites between 2006-2010. The capacity was to be used for connectivity and back-haul of cellular telephony.

Described locally as the “S-Band scam”, in January 2005 Antrix signed an agreement with Devas to lease 10 transponders of S-band capacity on two satellites (GSAT-6 and 6A) for $300 million, and claimed to be well below market rates, for a period of 12-years.  ISRO then committed to building and launching the two satellites at a cost of $110 million. Devas sold a 17 per cent stake in itself to Deutsche Telekom (DT) for $75 million.

Devas and DT subsequently sued for $2 billion and $1 billion respectively, and were initially awarded $672 million by an arbitration tribunal, and against Antrix.

The CBI told Special Judge Virender Kumar Goyal that the three accused were ex-chairman G Madhavan Nair, former ISRO Director A. Bhaskar Narayana Rao and former Antrix Executive Director K.R. Sridhara Murthi.  Former Managing Director of US-based Forge Advisors and CEO of Devas Ramachandra Vishwanathan, then Director of Devas M.G. Chandrasekhar, three former directors of Bangalore-based Devas Multi-media and Murthi were also on the charge sheet.

The CBI accused them of hatching a criminal conspiracy with an intent to cause undue gains to themselves or others by abusing their official position and causing loss to Antrix Corp and ISRO.

The court listed June 1st to consider the charge sheet filed in the case.

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