New Delhi/Chennai: Former telecom minister A. Raja will be in the custody of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for five days after a special court on Thursday said the agency could keep him for sustained interrogation due to his alleged role in the second-generation (2G) scam.
Raja and two others were arrested on Wednesday.
CBI told the court that Raja favoured Swan Telecom Pvt. Ltd and Unitech Wireless Ltd, among other companies, in the allocation of 2G spectrum, resulting in a loss of Rs 22,000 crore to the government.
Special public prosecutor Akhilesh (who uses only one name), arguing for the CBI, said after Swan got licences for 13 circles for Rs 1,537 crore, it immediately sold a 45% equity to Abu Dhabi-based Emirates Telecommunications Corp. (Etisalat) for Rs 4,200 crore.
The counsel added that Unitech was given licences in 22 circles for Rs 1,658 crore and it sold a 67.25% stake to Norway’s Telenor ASA for Rs.6,120 crore. Unitech and Telenor have a joint venture named Uninor. Favours were also shown to other companies not eligible for the spectrum, he said.
A spokesperson for Unitech said in an email the company received no favour and it got the licences “after complying with the necessary formalities prescribed in the applicable DoT (department of telecommunications) guidelines at a cost determined by the government”. Swan, now Etisalat DB Teleservices Pvt. Ltd, could not be reached for comment.
Along with Raja, the court granted CBI custody of his former personal secretary R.K. Chandolia, and then telecom secretary Siddharth Behuria.
Akhilesh told the court all three were evasive during questioning and were required for “sustained custodial interrogation”.
Raja and his associates were arrested under non-bailable charges of corruption and criminal conspiracy. If found guilty, they face jail for at least seven years. CBI is preparing to file charges in the case within the stipulated 60 days.
“They favoured certain companies (in the allocation of licences for 2G airwaves in 2007-08) at the cost of others by preponing the dates. Some of the parties knew well in advance that the policy is being changed,” Akhilesh told special judge O.P. Saini. The case has “wide ramifications and they have to be confronted with recovered documents and witnesses”.
CBI told the court as the spectrum was not awarded through a bidding process, the government took a loss of Rs 22,000 crore. “Spectrum was allocated at very low rate akin to rates of 2001. He (Raja) made alliances with the companies and gave licences to Swan Telecom and Unitech Wireless Ltd,” said Akhilesh.
Ramesh Gupta, a specialist bail lawyer hired by Raja and Chandolia, denied the charges, saying Raja was not alone in making the decisions. Chandolia was innocent as he was a personal secretary and had no power, he added. Opposing CBI’s demand for police custody, he said his clients should be sent to jail custody instead.
S.S. Gandhi, representing Behuria, said his client was innocent as he had joined as telecom secretary five days before the spectrum was allocated. Gandhi said his client was cooperating with CBI.
The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam party, which heads the Tamil Nadu government and is a key member of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre, maintained status quo on its stand on Raja, who resigned as its propaganda secretary on Thursday. “The party had stated earlier that it would take action on Raja if he were proven guilty. However, a mere arrest is not equivalent to conviction,” it said in a resolution.