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Telecom probe takes deadly turn

Telecom probe takes deadly turn
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First Published: Wed, Mar 16 2011. 11 42 PM IST
Updated: Thu, Mar 17 2011. 10 11 AM IST
Chennai/New Delhi: In a gruesome twist to the telecom saga, a close associate of A. Raja allegedly committed suicide at his home in Chennai on a day when the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) formally informed the Supreme Court that it will charge the former telecom minister and two companies for their role in what has come to be called the 2G (second-generation) scam.
A.M. Sadiq Batcha allegedly hanged himself. His wife rushed him to Apollo Hospital, where doctors pronounced him dead.
CBI said Batcha’s death would not affect its investigations, but the Enforcement Directorate (ED) said the event was a serious setback to its investigation. CBI is examining the corruption aspects of the case, while ED is trying to reconstruct the money trail.
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“Batcha was a suspect and not a key player. His death will not affect the investigations,” a high-ranking CBI official, who is monitoring the case, said on condition of anonymity. “We have questioned him four times and have recorded his statements.”
However, a senior ED official, who is investigating the matter, said, “We suspect that Green House (Batcha’s company) has routed the 2G bribe money to other countries such as Singapore and UAE. We’ve already contacted our counterparts in these countries for details of money transactions, corporate structure.” Once ED collects the information from these sources, it was to be corroborated with Batcha.
Meanwhile, opponents of the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) turned the heat on the party, of which Raja is a member.
Following a directive of the apex court, the government stated on Wednesday that a special court to try the 2G case will be formed by 29 March.
Both Batcha and Raja hail from Perambalur, Tamil Nadu. Batcha launched Green House Promoters Pvt. Ltd, a real estate firm, two weeks after Raja became Union environment minister in 2004, and was its managing director. Raja’s wife M.A. Parameswari held a key position in Batcha’s company, while brother A. Kaliyaperumal and nephew R.P. Paramesh Kumar continue to do so.
According to the first information report filed by the family, Batcha committed suicide because he could not bear the shame of his involvement in the so-called 2G scam. Chennai police also disclosed that a suicide note was handed over by the family in which he absolved Raja.
Batcha’s family declined to comment.
CBI had searched Green House Promoters on 15 December and questioned Batcha last on 24 February. The investigating agency denied “putting any pressure” on Batcha to become an approver in the case. CBI has sought information on Batcha’s death. Chennai police is considering transferring the investigation into the circumstances of his death to the agency.
B.R. Lal, former CBI joint director, said Batcha’s death was a big loss for the investigation. “As it appears in the media, the CBI was trying to turn him as an approver, which indicates he had a greater role to play in the conspiracy. Normally a person is made approver in the case when there is not enough evidence against the others,” he said.
Political opponents of the ruling DMK alleged foul play.
“The death of Sadiq Batcha has raised many questions. Has he committed suicide or was he killed... We strongly request CBI to conduct a detailed probe,” Communist Party of India (Marxist) state secretary G. Ramakrishnan said in a statement in Tamil Nadu.
In a press statement, J. Jayalalithaa, general secretary of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, said, “A similar fate could await other key witnesses in the 2G scam investigations, particularly if they are from Tamil Nadu. If CBI and the Supreme Court are really keen on unearthing the whole truth behind this colossal scam, it would be better to keep all such witnesses under CBI or judicial custody till the investigations are over. Further, a protective cover has to be provided to Raja, the main accused in the case. Otherwise, he could also go the Sadiq Batcha way.”
Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy made a similar demand in New Delhi.
Earlier, CBI had said it was probing whether Batcha acted as a front for Raja in receiving kickbacks. “We had raided him earlier and seized many incriminating documents from him. Batcha’s meteoric rise in the past few years has also put him under suspicion,” the CBI official quoted above said.
The official said the agency has also found Batcha’s link with Shahid Balwa, promoter of Swan Telecom (now known as Etisalat DB Telecom India Pvt. Ltd). According to CBI, Balwa, who is in custody, colluded with Raja. Balwa has denied all the allegations.
Meanwhile, CBI’s latest report to the Supreme Court on Wednesday showed that it is probing the eligibility of Loop Telecom to apply for licences. It also said it was looking into a company that has connections with Vodafone. The ED report also makes many mentions of this company.
CBI informed the apex court, without sharing details, that it was investigating implications for national security and had in its possession a report from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation. There is also a company being examined for its connections with a Chinese firm for importing equipment. Other telcos have also imported equipment from the same Chinese company.
CBI lawyer K.K. Venugopal said the agency has questioned 44 witnesses as on 14 March and was examining the building occupied by Voltas (a Tata group firm) in Chennai. This is in connection with allegations of quid pro quo between Raja’s party, the DMK, and Tata group chief Ratan Tata.
There was no response from the Tata group till the time of going to the press.
The court, in its order, directed the investigating agency to place before it transcripts of corporate lobbyist Niira Radia’s telephonic conversations tapped by the income-tax department, during the next hearing on 29 March.
It also asked CBI and ED to place the probe reports before it on that day.
Meanwhile, attorney general Goolam Vahanvati told the court that the special court for the exclusive trial of the case would be formed by the Central government by 29 March, so that the chargesheet could be filed there. He said the Delhi high court had nominated an additional sessions judge, who according to reports is special CBI judge O.P. Saini.
The apex court also directed Venugopal to recommend a special public prosecutor for the trial. Venugopal said the agency had a panel of prosecutors already, but said in prominent cases such as this one, an eminent senior criminal lawyer could be appointed.
Graphic by Ahmed Raza Khan/Mint
Anupama Chandrasekaran in Chennai, Appu Esthose Suresh and Shauvik Ghosh in New Delhi, and PTI also contributed to this story.
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First Published: Wed, Mar 16 2011. 11 42 PM IST