The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) raided the residence of New Delhi Television (NDTV) Limited co-founder and executive chairperson Prannoy Roy this morning. The CBI reportedly conducted searches at at four places including Delhi and Dehradun.
The raid was part a crackdown for bank frauds. The CBI has registered a case against Prannoy Roy, his wife and co-founder of the channel Radhika Roy, a private company and others for allegedly defrauding a private bank.
The case is related to a Rs 396 crore fraud on ICICI Bank. Reports suggest that Roys took Rs 396 crore loan from ICICI Bank to shell company RRPR Holding showing NDTV assets. Rs 21 crore and Rs 71 crore were then diverted to the bank account of Prannoy and Radhika Roy respectively.
Reacting to the CBI raids, BJP leader and Rajya Sabha MP Dr Subramanian Swamy said, “Fear of law is necessary and it should be applied no matter who you are.”
Swamy had earlier written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi requesting him to direct the CBI to file case against NDTV under Prevention of Corruption Act. Alleging that NDTV was a party to Aircel-Maxis scam, during the Congress rule, Swamy had said it received illegal money from Maxis subsidiary Astro. Swamy further said that the money, received by NDTV from Maxis, was “illegally approved” by then Finance Minister P Chidambaram to “benefit his son” Karthi Chidambaram.
The Roys are being probed for contraventions of tax laws and laws involving foreign money. A report published in Caravan Magazine suggests that a series of financial transactions that the Roys have carried out from the mid 2000s onwards have been under close investigation by government agencies.
In 2013, Sanjay Dutt, director of a financial-services firm Quantum Securities who owned around 125,000 shares in NDTV, had filed complaints with Enforcement Directorate and Directorate General of Income Tax alleging that that NDTV and its promoters had violated a number of laws. In January 2015, Dutt had filed a writ petition in Delhi High Court against Enforcement Directorate and Directorate General of Income Tax Investigation alleging that both agencies failed to act on his complaints.
The Enforcement Directorate, in November last year, had slapped a show cause notice to NDTV for flouting foreign exchange regulations while bringing foreign investments to the tune of Rs 2,030 crore between 2007-10.
A book named ‘NDTV Frauds’, written by Sree Iyer, talks in detail about alleged illegalities committed by the media group.
The raids come on a day the broadcaster is taking its English business news channel NDTV Profit off air. It could be noted that NDTV Profit continued to have the lowest TRP among the genre of business-economy channels. Even the general news channels in Hindi and English have failed to top the TRP charts.
During the quarter ending 31 December 2016, NDTV had reported a consolidated revenue loss of Rs 18 crore following a dip in advertising revenue. Facing financial losses, the channel has put its assets on sale.
NDTV is facing three-fold challenges – revenue loss, fraud and credibility crisis. NDTV, primarily a left-leaning television news channel, often faces a lot of flak in social media for taking partisan stand against the Modi government and the BJP, using half truths and manipulation of facts. Incidentally, after the Congress lost power in 2014 general elections, the broadcaster is facing financial crisis.
At the same time the credibility of the channel is on a further downside with its anchors peddling fake news, channel being silent on crimes by relatives of NDTV journalists, and the channel giving platform to people who are abusive and violent.
NDTV also came under severe criticism for its coverage on the terror attack at Pathankot airbase. In November last year, the government had ordered a one day token ban on NDTV India, after an inter-ministerial panel constituted by the Information & Broadcasting Ministry recommended this action. The ban was ultimately not executed, even as the channel refused to apologise for Pathankot coverage.