New Delhi: There were few surprises in the second supplementary chargesheet, and the third overall, filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in the second-generation (2G) case as the names of most of the people named had been the subject of speculation.
Those charged in Delhi on Monday included Ravi Ruia, Anshuman Ruia, Kiran Khaitan, I.P. Khaitan and Vikas Saraf along with the companies they own and control—Essar Group, Loop Telecom Pvt. Ltd and Loop Teleholdings—for allegedly violating clause 8 of the universal access service licence (UASL) guidelines. They were booked under sections 120B (conspiracy) and 420 (cheating) of the Indian Penal Code after the chargesheet was filed in the special court of judge O.P. Saini, who is conducting the 2G trial.
Ravi Ruia, vice chairman, Essar group. File photo.
Ravi Ruia, one of India’s wealthiest persons, is vice-chairman of Essar, and Anshuman Ruia, his nephew, is a director. Saraf is the company’s president for strategy and planning. Kiran Khaitan is the sister of Essar Group founders Shashi and Ravi. She is also the wife of I.P. Khaitan. The Khaitans are promoters of Loop Telecom and Santa Trading Pvt. Ltd (STPL).
CBI charged the Ruias and the Khaitans for using Loop Telecom to apply for licences and spectrum even as they held and controlled 33% of Vodafone Essar Ltd. The agency contends this was in violation of telecom licence guidelines as it was anti-competitive in nature.
Under clause 8 of the guidelines, a company with a telecom licence cannot hold more than 10% equity in another company with a telecom licence in the same area of operation.
Essar, in a statement distributed to reporters outside the court, said the company “denies all charges” and that they will be contested.
“CBI and the attorney general have gone contrary to the opinion given by the ministry of law and justice and the ministry of corporate affairs. CBI has also gone against their internal legal advice,” the company said.
Essar also contended: “Similar contractual violations in the past have not attracted any fine/penalty or charges by the government.”
Saini said the “matter requires further consideration”, and posted it for 17 December, as court hours had concluded for the day. The court is yet to take cognizance of the chargesheet, meaning that it will examine whether CBI’s complaint against the accused is good enough for a criminal trial.
CBI filed a 105-page chargesheet, along with 398 documents as annexures. The chargesheet names 100 prosecution witnesses.
Loop was allocated 21 licences in January 2008 by former telecom minister A. Raja, who was arrested in February following other alleged irregularities related to Reliance Telecom, Swan Telecom and Unitech Wireless, whose officials were also arrested and are now out on bail.
On 17 February, Prashant Ruia, chief executive officer of Essar, was summoned to the CBI headquarters in New Delhi for questioning on his company’s relationship with Loop Telecom.
“We called him to explain shareholding patterns, and to explain if his company used Loop as a front,” a CBI official had said in February.
Since then, the Essar-Loop case has been referred to various departments—CBI, the corporate affairs ministry, the law ministry and attorney general Goolam E. Vahanvati’s office—before the chargesheet was finally placed before the court.
The corporate affairs ministry and subsequently the law ministry took the view that the relationship between Essar and Loop was not violative of UASL guidelines. But in November, Vahanvati took the opposite view after the CBI director had sought his opinion on the issue.
According to documents reviewed by Mint, on 5 August 2008, A.K. Srivastava, then deputy director general in the department of telecommunications, had asked the ministry of corporate affairs to investigate whether Essar Group was getting “spectrum or licence” in the name of Loop Telecom.
After nearly eight months, R.K. Gupta, deputy director in the ministry of corporate affairs, replied to Srivastava that Loop was owned by STPL, which also owned BPL Communications and BPL Mobile Communications. “The Essar Group does not have any direct equity in STPL, Loop Telecom. It, however, holds 9.99% in Loop Telecom indirectly,” Gupta wrote.
John Satish Kumar in Mumbai and Shauvik Ghosh in New Delhi contributed to this story.
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