New Delhi: The stage is set for the start of a criminal trial that will bring crony capitalism under scrutiny after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) filed its first chargesheet over alleged wrongdoing in the allotment of second-generation (2G) telecom licences, implicating one of India’s most high-profile business groups, its second biggest real estate company and a prominent politician among others.
All the accused will be charged with cheating, forgery, conspiracy and corruption. A conviction will mean a maximum of seven years in jail, since sentences run concurrently under Indian law.
The spotlight on the alleged nexus involving politicians, businessmen and bureaucrats comes at a time when the Congress party, which heads the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA), is poised to contest elections in the four key states of West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Assam.
The chargesheet, which ran into 80,000 pages, was filed by CBI in a special court on Saturday and alleges that the association of former telecom minister A. Raja with several businessmen preceded his taking charge at the telecom ministry.
CBI has told the apex court it will file two supplementary chargesheets, one by 25 April and the other before 31 May.
According to the chargesheet, Raja was cultivated by businessmen Shahid Balwa, Sanjay Chandra and Vinod Goenka to obtain environmental clearance for their real estate projects when Raja was environment minister.
Raja took over the telecom portfolio of the UPA government in May 2007; he stepped down in November and was arrested by CBI in February.
Investigators allege Raja allotted licences without competitive bidding and conspired to favour some companies. The chargesheet pegged the loss to the exchequer at Rs 30,985 crore.
Unitech Wireless Ltd, Swan Telecom (now Etisalat DB Telecom India Pvt. Ltd) and Reliance Telecom, a unit of the Anil Ambani-owned Reliance Group, are the entities responsible for the multi-crore conspiracy, investigators told the special court.
Unitech managing director Chandra, Reliance Group managing director Gautam Doshi, president Surendra Pipara and senior vice-president Hari Nair, Swan Telecom director Goenka and promoter Balwa are the businessmen named by CBI in the chargesheet, along with Raja, his former personal secretary R.K. Chandolia and former telecom secretary Siddhartha Behura.
Chandra, Doshi, Goenka, Pipara and Nair have been summoned to the special court on 13 April for the next hearing.
Last week, the government notified a special court exclusively for the trial to be presided over by justice O. P. Saini.
According to the chargesheet, Chandra formed eight group companies to apply for telecom licences. Once the licences were granted, the companies were all merged into Unitech Wireless (Tamil Nadu) Pvt. Ltd, against which the chargesheet has been filed by CBI.
The chargesheet says Doshi, Pipara and Nair played an active role in structuring and funding Swan Telecom and its holding company Tiger Traders Pvt. Ltd and other companies.
CBI claims they “belonged” to Reliance Telecom and were authorized by Reliance Telecom to represent its interest in Swan Telecom.
The investigators also charged Reliance officials with cheating the department of telecommunications by transferring Swan Telecom to Balwa and Goenka after Reliance Communications Ltd (parent of Reliance Telecom) was allotted radio spectrum.
Chandolia was found to be renting a Delhi property, located in Safdarjung Development Area, to an associate company of DB Realty Ltd.
Attorney general Goolam E. Vahanvati, corporate lobbyist Niira Radia and Reserve Bank of India governor D. Subbarao are among the 117 witnesses whose statements have been recorded by CBI.
Unitech and Reliance denied all allegations through emailed statements on 3 April, while Etisalat DB said it would issue a “clarification” subsequently.