New Delhi: The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Saturday charged a former minister, the Reliance ADA Group and the Indian joint venture partners of Telenor and Etisalat, in a multi-billion dollar telecoms licencing corruption scandal that has rocked the government and business establishments.
CBI has named former telecom minister A Raja, Sanjay Chandra (director, Unitech Wireless Ltd), Vinod Goenka (director DB Realty), Gautam Doshi, Hari Nair, and Surendra Bipara of Reliance Telecom Limited, along with Siddharth Behura (former telecom secretary), RK Chandolia (former private secretary of Raja), Shahid Balwa(former director DB Realty)
The companies are Swan Telecom (now Etisalat DB), Unitech Wireless Ltd and Reliance Telecom Limited, a company of the Reliance ADA group.
CBI special public prosecutor A K Singh told reporters that the losses from the alleged criminal conspiracy amounted to Rs 30,000 crore.
The investigating agency has also filed an 80,000-page chargesheet before the special court set up exclusively for the 2G trial presided over by Judge O P Saini.
“The accused conspired with Raja and got the licences before the other people in the queue,” Singh added.
The special court took cognisance of the chargesheet and fixed the next date of hearing for 13 April.
Raja, Behura, Chandolia and Balwa, who are all in judicial custody, as well as the other five accused, have been summoned to the court for the next hearing. A senior CBI official said the agency took till 2 April to file the chargesheet as it wanted to utilise all the 60 days once it had made the initial arrests on 2 February.
“The charges are conspiracy, cheating, forgery of documents, abuse of official position and abetment,” Singh told reporters after the charges were filed in court.
The graft scandal, potentially India’s largest ever, has damaged confidence in the Congress-led coalition government, led to calls for the resignation of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and worried investors in Asia’s third-largest economy.
It is one of the several corruption scandals that have emerged during Singh’s second term, hobbling policymaking and diverting the government’s attention away from pushing forward crucial economic reforms.
Some of India’s leading businesses have been questioned and past official decisions scrutinised or reversed. These events have weighed on stocks, with the Mumbai market ending the March quarter as the world’s worst performer.
India may have lost as much as $39 billion due to violations of rules when lucrative mobile phone licences and radio spectrum were granted in 2008, the state auditor estimated, a sum equivalent to the country’s defence budget.
Raja was forced to resign and later arrested over the auditor’s report. He has been accused in court earlier of taking bribes from two firms which are now part of the India operations of Etisalat and Telenor. Singh said the police would file the bribery charges later.
Others arrested include Balwa, the vice chairman of Etisalat’s Indian venture.
Police have also questioned Anil Ambani, the billionaire chairman of Reliance ADA Group and Prashant Ruia, the chief executive of steel-to-telecoms conglomerate Essar group.
A parliamentary panel probing the scandal has summoned iconic business tycoon Ratan Tata and Anil Ambani for questioning next week.
All of the accused have denied any wrongdoing.
The telecoms ministry is considering whether to cancel several licences, after the auditor’s report accused these firms of not being eligible for them, sparking off worries about regulatory stability.
The Supreme Court, under its tough new chief justice, has been monitoring the progress of the case after having reprimanded Prime Minister Singh for not moving quick enough to act against his minister.
Faced with a resurgent opposition, the Singh’s government has not been able to undertake economic reforms such as freeing up diesel prices and allowing foreign investors into the supermarket sector.
The corruption scandals, which include charges of graft at the 2010 Commonwealth Games and of officials at state-run banks taking bribes for corporate loans, have tarnished Singh’s image as a clean and effective leader.
They could also affect the performance of the ruling Congress party in five state elections that begin in mid-April, in which the Congress must perform well or risk the coalition unravelling.